Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Going "Full Ass" at the Inaugural 2018 Whistle Punk Deuce

(The clouds settle into Purisima, photo courtesy of Cris Gebhardt)
“Celebrate early and often”. It’s one of my favorite life mottos. Don’t wait for some once-in-an-eon milestone, round-numbered birthday, or Hallmark-designated date on the calendar…if there’s a reason to celebrate, just send the invites and DO IT. Does your neighbor’s dog need a one year and two month birthday party? Hell yes, he does. Break out the sausage balloons and bacon-topped chicken cake, and go off-leash crazy with all your doggy (and kitty!) friends. Is it the five year and three week anniversary of the day you met your current best friend? Then for God’s sake, have some champagne and cupcakes, retell every story with glorious volume and exaggeration, then dance until you pass out. Next week, we’ll add a costume theme and lawn darts, and do it all over again.

Once you decide to celebrate, what is most important (as my 7-year-old, Quinn would say), is YOU DON’T HALF ASS IT. Bring food, brings friends, play games, and don’t stop until everyone is exhausted and sunburnt. Have you ever seen a famous picture of half of an ass? Of course you haven’t. That’s ridiculous. Everyone wants the full ass. It’s so fundamental, even a 7-year-old will disapprovingly shake her head (and booty) if you even try to go, say, three-quarter ass. In the celebration of life’s random chapters, no matter what it is, one must go all or nothing. (Daddy, stop trying to make #FULLASSORNOTHING a thing!)

I suspect Race Directors conjure a similar muse when they scheme up new courses. Robert Rhodes and the Baytrailrunners “Whistle Punk - The Deuce” is a perfect example. I can picture Robert, with his mischievous smile and infinite passion for adventure, routing his deep knowledge of the beautiful trails of the Purisima Open Space Preserve to inspire a vision - “what if we double everything and hit every climb in this park…26.2 miles with 6,500’ of vertical…in the most perfect late Autumn weather that California has to offer…then sit in the sun with snacks and beer and talk about it until the sun goes down, and/or our quads and calves finally stop twitching in endless revolt…”. Epic from the moment of conception, as acknowledged by the hearty volunteers who pony up, and the runners who sell out the race in days. I was lucky enough to be one of them (racing today!), and was ready for a full ass adventure.

And so at 9am this last Sunday, I helped fill the parking lot with ~100 other runners, 35 tackling the 26.2 miles of “The Deuce”, while the rest took on the challenging Whistle Punk Half. It was a perfect weather day – chilly under the redwood canopy, but warm and sunny once you broke the tree line. Thanks to the vertically challenging course, we would all visit these microclimates repeatedly.

(Cruising under the canopy, photo courtesy of Todd Glieden)
I caught up with fellow runners at the start, including the fit-and-always-sandbagging Sean Handel (going for the Half, naturally), Ken Huang (her huge smile as bright as the sunrise), Nakia Baird (Faster Now That I’m A Master), Holly Tate Ross (the Dipsea Crusher), a visitor from Amsterdam, and many locals who had heard the call. My fitness was good, although I had recently taken two weeks off due to a neck injury suffered when taking an awkward fall on the trails (honestly, is there ever a “non-awkward” fall on the trails?). Given my limited range of motion, there would be no photos today (pro photographer Cris Gebhardt would have us covered on this front), but it shouldn’t hold back from a good, smiling sufferfest. Many of us shared an extra long hug and smile in memory of Dennis Connor who recently died in a trail running accident in Switzerland, knowing full well if he were here, he would tell us to count our blessings – good health, good friends, and an excuse to play in the mountains.

(Getting it done! Photo courtesy of Cris Gebhardt)
Robert sent us off with a glorious “whoop!”, and we immediately descended to the Craig Britton Trail that traced above the coastal clouds, dropping us closer and closer to its refreshing grey soup. The trails of Purisima are ideal for running, alternating between the smooth, redwood-protected single track and roads, and some obscenely steep and exposed sections that even the most elite would need to fast hike. By Robert’s design, the first few miles would be the easiest (if you could call any of this course “easy”), and slowly but surely, the screws would turn.

(Sean Handel leads us out, photo courtesy of Cris Gebhardt)
(Todd Glieden gets a selfie with the Grabtown volunteer crew)
We climbed up Grabtown Gulch (some of my favorite single track out here), hitting the first aid station (mile 6) and checking off the first of four big climbs. After a long and luscious descent, I found myself running with San Francisco’s Kristin Sellers and Oakland’s Lucy Andrews, both of whom were wise enough to take hike breaks on the second big ascent as they rocked out to their respective tunes. We still have lots of climbing to go!

(Tackling the climbs, photo courtesy of Cris Gebhardt)
As we finished the climb and made the turn (mile 13), the volunteers let me know I was in 4th place, with San Bruno’s Ammon Skidmore out front, closely followed by Palo Alto’s Martin Jambon and local speedster Karl Schnaitter. The lead women were all within a minute right behind me - a tight race! Whose soundtrack would be faster?

(Enjoying the shade while it lasts, photo courtesy of Cris Gebhardt)
We descended down the crazy steep Harkins Ridge trail (first race to ever go this way!), where Palo Alto’s Rokas Zickevicius went flying by me just before we hit the aid station (mile 17). I fueled up quickly, so regained 4th place as we did a backwards loop back up to Grabtown. I could hear Rokas working hard behind me in the canyon, which kept my posture upright and focused (thanks, Rokas!). It somehow felt steeper in this direction (likely because it was climb #3), but I kept on it, running everything. At the top (mile 20), they reaffirmed my place, but said Kyle Schnaitter was now leading the race a solid 10 minutes ahead of me. Wow, he’s flying!

(Nothing but smiles, photo courtesy of Nathan Han)
The butterflies surfed my tailwind as I headed down into the redwood canopy one last time, their random flight patterns as light as laughter. I often wonder if butterflies wait for us like surfers watching a break. If so, let me be your seventh wave so you can drop big! I leaned into the downhill until my quads screamed, cutting through the still air with proper wave-like nobility. The butterflies replied with glorious carves, fabulous floaters, snaking each other like a den of thieves. These magical moments are everywhere in the forest, forged in presence and play.

(Ammon enjoys some fast single track, photo courtesy of Cris Gebhardt)
I broke from the flow to fuel up at the last aid station (mile 21) as the butterflies sallied into the sunbeams. Mother Nature, my love, I crash onto your shore! The sun was coming down through the redwood canopy now, so this last climb would be a hot one. Volunteers Penny and Ramona got me set up with my hot day cocktail of half Coke/half water, and I tore up Whitmere Gulch one last time.

(Me burning through the last climb, photo courtesy of Cris Gebhardt)
It was a grind, pushing me to cross-eyed levels in the last mile (full ass!). I drowned myself in the cleansing voluntary pain that we all relentlessly chug, and so few on this planet understand. I crossed the line (4th overall in 4:11:59), and quickly took a seat in the sun with Karl Schnaitter (1st, 3:50), Martin Jambon (3:58, 2nd), and Ammon Skidmore (4:09, 3rd). Rokas finished right behind me (4:12:34, 5th), thanking me for being just close enough he had to keep pushing all the way (Roka, you did the same for me!). Holly Tate Ross (4:17) won the Women’s Deuce, with Kristin Sellers (4:19) and Lucy Andrews (4:25) very close behind. Sean “Sandbagger” Handel won the Half (1:47), with Dara Dickson (2:16) winning the Women’s division. Before long, we were all relaxing on the grass with the volunteers (Trisha, Rob, Karen, Bala, Kristen, Mandie, Lauren, Michael, Susan, Rosa, Nathan, Todd, Greg, and more!), telling tales with beers in hand. It’s not even 2pm, and we have seized this day for all it is worth. This was most certainly a full ass celebration.

(Enjoying some post-race moments with Greg Lanctot and RD Robert Rhodes)
My thanks to Robert and his volunteers for creating “The Deuce”, and executing it brilliantly. In my book, this is already one of the great California “must do” events. I hope to see more of you next year!

- SD

Monday, October 08, 2018

The Forest Fool

I hear the crickets now.

They sing their nightsong with all their might, a volume evolved to ferocious instinctual levels, creating a meditative chorus that waves through the forest. They know their song is magic, and it must be set free, a gospel that creates stillness more calming than silence.

The cool air is sneaking up the canyon, rousing my arm hair to attention, and nudging me the last mile home. There are a few minutes of light left in the high trees, so I pause to wash my hands in the creek and take it in. I’ve run this trail a thousand times, and it’s so easy to miss all that it has to offer.

Now here, on a random weeknight with nothing but time, I catch it all. When you head and heart are open, the turning of the night is a sensual masterpiece.

The gloaming reflects a truth I already know. The world is alive…where have you been? As the seasons pass, we watch you run by, head down in your introspective prison, fictionalizing and rationalizing, solving the world’s woes, and bearing the crosses of others simply because they asked. You are the definition of oblivious, unaware and unconcerned of the heaven around you, even when it contains all the answers and more.

I laugh out loud, splashing in the creek. What a fool am I! A glorious, oblivious fool.

A smile pulls at my cheeks as I let the humility consume me. I stand tall, rooted in the shadowed forest, staring up into the starry night.

The crickets do not pause. They have heard this laugh before. One more welcome voice in their chorus.

Monday, October 01, 2018

Bigger and Faster Field for Boston Marathon Results In Faster Qualifying Times for 2020

Since 2013, qualifying for the historic Boston Marathon has involved two steps.

First, you need to run a Boston-qualifying time ("BQ") based on your age and sex. The BQ standard is no joke - only 10.4% of runners ever clock a BQ time. It's one of the reasons that "getting to Boston" finds its way onto the bucket list for most serious runners at some point in their running career.

Second, you need to register for the race and hope the qualifying time that you ran beat the standard by enough that when they cut off the entries at ~24,000 runners, you have made it in. In 2014, you had to run one minute, 38 seconds faster than your BQ to be accepted into the race. In 2015, it was 1:02 faster. In 2016, it became 2:28, and suddenly the "squeakers" (those who just barely made the cut off) knew a new game was afoot. In 2017, it was 2:09. In 2018, it climbed to 3:23.

For 2019, it was 4:52.

This resulted in the largest number of applicants ever not making the cut off (7,384 of 30,458 total applicants), and an announcement from the B.A.A. that all qualifying standards would be raised by five minutes for all age groups for 2020 and beyond. For men age 18-34 (the fastest required qualifying time), it is now 3 hours flat. Hello, #breaking3 hashtag!

So how did this happen? Are runners getting faster? Well, it likely has more to do with the fact that the pool of applicants is getting bigger. Both last year and this year saw a 7% increase in applicants, well ahead of the typical 4% growth rate the race has seen historically. Qualifying times of new entrants are not noticeably faster, but by the nature of those times being evenly distributed, it is raising the overall cut off time.

Personally, I am excited to see the new BQ standards. Whether it is because more runners are getting serious, or we just have more runners in general, there is a growing global pool of people embracing their inner athlete and a committed healthy lifestyle. That's powerful. That is worthy of applause. My hat is off to all of you!

But I also understand for a lot of "squeakers", or those who have been eagerly pursuing a BQ for years, needing to find another five minutes is NOT what you wanted to hear right now (#finding5, anyone?). My hat is off to you as well. You are equally committed to a healthy lifestyle, you are equally as impressive, and there is no doubt you are doing the hard work. Less than 5% of adults exercise daily, and less than 0.5% of adults will ever run a marathon, so find solace in the fact that you are easily in the top 1% of your species. Don't let an arbitrary standard based on a constrained size of allowed runners on the streets of Boston cast a shadow on your devotion to your craft.

We all have our stretch goals. Perhaps the news from the B.A.A. will make you stretch a bit farther. If you're pissed off, that's great! Recognize the anger for the gift that it is - undirected passion. Then channel that passion proactively - get a coach, make a plan, share your goals with your friends and family and invite them to help, and then enjoy the journey, whether it is Boston or not. If you do that, you are SO winning. And it will feel that way, I promise!

Whatever your journey, I hope to see you on the road, on the trails, or anywhere outside when you are smiling with friends while covered in dirt, sweat, and blood. You know that's where I will be! And if you did make it to Boston for 2019, congratulations! I'll see you there. ;-)

Cheers, Scott

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