Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Adventure is on the horizon

I have the good fortune of working for a company that provides a paid eight week sabbatical, once every seven years.  Toss in a little vacation and I've found myself in a situation where, beginning this Friday, I will leave work, not to return for nine weeks.  On Saturday I'll be traveling to South Africa where my goal is to start and finish the Comrades Marathon on June 1, 2014.

I am filled with excitement, nervousness, optimism, and fear.  My training has not gone according to plan.  Between April 5 and May 14, I did not run a single step.  When the countdown to race day reached ~17 days, I felt that it was my last chance to test my ankle and my last chance to impact my running fitness before the big day.  If nothing else, I needed to regain some confidence.  So, I embarked upon a 5-day Comrades training plan (don't try this at home).  It involved running in the hottest part of the day (fortunately, we received some upper 90's and 100 degree temps) and mileage as follows:

Wednesday - 05/14/2014    -    4.1 miles
Thursday   -  05/14/2014    -    5.1 miles
    Friday     -    05/14/2014   -   8.5 miles  
  Saturday    -   05/14/2014    -    10.1 miles
  Sunday     -    05/14/2014    -    11.1 miles

Roughly 40 miles in 5 days.  Had I not been injured, I likely would have ran 50 miles this week, including a 20 mile run.  After pushing through quite a bit of discomfort during the first two runs (mostly what felt like cardio fitness issues), I felt stronger each day.  On Saturday, I enjoyed the company and conversation of my friend Jeff.  On Sunday, I ran alone on the trail at dusk.  I've missed this and felt I could have gone on for hours.

My ankle is not 100%.  I feel I've done what I can do.  Over the past 6-7 weeks, I've applied the patience, focus, and determination that I've gained training for ultramarathons towards rehabilitating my ankle.  I am as ready as I can be, certainly as ready as I will be.  On Sunday, June 1 at 5:30 AM, I will set out on foot from Pietermaritzburg towards Durban.  I will put one foot in front of the other, continuing in that direction, until I reach the finish line or am removed from the course.

From Sunday's run:

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

2014 Miwok 100k - Volunteering

May 03, 2014 had been circled on my calendar for quite sometime.  The Miwok 100k race was one of the first ultra-marathons I had heard of and became an immediate "bucket list" item for me, if for no other reason, because of the excellent play on words used for it's original name: "What Mi-Wok?".  Of course, there are many more things than the fun word-play making this a desirable race.  The course is drop-dead gorgeous, extremely challenging (this year's course boasted 12,500 feet of climbing), and draws a strong field of experienced ultra-runners.

Having finally been drawn in the lottery, I was filled to the brim with excitement and was really looking forward to testing myself on this course and qualifying for my 3rd straight Western States 100 M lottery.  Alas, it was not to be this year.  May 03, 2014 had arrived and my ankle had in no way healed to a point where starting this race was feasible, particularly considering that I will be traveling to South Africa on May 24, to run Comrades on June 1st.

I decided to do what I could to experience the race without running it, so I contacted the race director, Tia and offered to volunteer.  Tia replied to my inquiry, offering up the most coveted of volunteer duties.  Directing people into the Stinson Beach parking lot at 3:30 AM.

I stayed in Mill Valley, roughly 30 minutes from the Miwok start.  After a few hours of sleep, my alarm sounded at 2:30 AM and I was off to Stinson Beach, where I would stand in the dark for ~1.5 hours, wielding a small flashlight and an orange vest and flag.  I pointed.  Just before 5 AM, I headed over to the community center just as the race was starting.  Once the runners were off, I met Tia, enjoyed some nice chat as we headed over to the local coffee shop for lattes and americanos.  At 6:30 AM or so, I loaded my truck up with runners drop bags and toted them over to the Tennessee Valley aid station, where I would spend my day encouraging runners, helping them find their drop bags, food, beverages, band aides, or whatever else they might  need.  I urged them to go on, to run the race that I was unable to start.  I really enjoyed the day, it was great to see so many friends who were either volunteering, crewing, or running.

At ~6:30 PM, I headed back to Stinson Beach and cheered for the finishers, all the way until the 9:30 PM cutoff.  The finish line was a beautiful and emotional place, there were too many great stories and inspirations to list.  The last runner finished and focus shifted to clearing out the finish area and the community center.  I helped out, packing trash, stacking chairs and tables, and bringing food to runners, until there was no more work to do.  At 12:00 AM, my day was complete and I headed back to Mill Valley.

I witnessed countless inspirational feats, met some amazing people, and really enjoyed the day!

Some pics:

Packed up the truck, heading for Tennesee Valley

I can't believe all that fit!

Gary Gellin at mile 36, Tennessee Valley, en route to a win and "modern course" record.
Photo featured on trailrunnermag.com

Brendan Trimboli 2nd overall

Jean Pommier 3rd overall

Gary Gellin's second trip through Tennessee Valley, mile ~48

Pal Jeff Le

Bruce Falzarano

Pal Charley Jones



Tia, "Rocket" Errol Jones, and I at the finish.

Lucy did not make the trip. :(

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

American River 50 Mile... unplanned rest

On April 5, I awoke before dawn and drove over to the starting area of the American River 50 Mile Endurance Run.  This was to be my third consecutive AR50 and I was looking forward to it.  The new course change placed the start line only 5 it is miles from my home.  I arrived, quickly began mingling with friends and at 6 AM, we were off.

I was feeling great and was cruising along comfortably and efficiently.  I had met some new friends while running and was really enjoying the day.

That all changed suddenly at mile 10.  During a short, steep downhill section of trail, I planted my left foot awkwardly, possibly on the rounded edge of a stone.  My ankle rolled harshly and abruptly.  Intense pain surged throughout my ankle and lower leg, accompanied by a loud snap.  I yelped in pain, my momentum sent me hopping towards a nearby wooden post, which I was able to use to brace myself and avoid a fall.  Immediately, I feared what this might mean for my upcoming races; Miwok 100k and Comrades.   I hopped off the trail and say down to evaluate the severity if the injury, hoping I would be able to continue.   After a minute or two, I got on my feet gingerly limped along the trail, wondering if I would be able to walk it off. With in a few more minutes, it was clear that my 100th race would be my first DNF (did not finish).  A lump, roughly the size if a baseball had formed on the outside of my ankle.  I continued limping down the trail to the next aid station, three miles away.  I chatted with friends, who all gave their condolences and wished for a fast recovery, as they passed.

Roughly an hour later, I arrived at the Willow Creek aid station, where I dropped from a race for the first time.  Doing so felt horrible.

At the Willow Creek aid station

I had called Candace from the trail, awaited her arrival and headed to the emergency room.  Fortunately, no broken bones or complete tears were diagnosed.  A grade 2 sprain, 7 weeks out from Comrades, a 56 mile race in South Africa.

The E.R. Dr. wanted to aggressively treat my ankle in an effort to get me running again in time for Comrades and put me in a splint cast.  

No fun, it just didn't feel right knowing that I should still be out running.

Since then, rehab and recovery has been at the forefront of my mind.  

I've been taking one of these, daily.

Lucy and I got plenty of quality "lying around" time.

Three days later

7 days later

15 days later

16 days later, looking quite a bit more normal.

I had a follow-up with the podiatrist today, April 23, followed by my first physical therapy appointment.  The Dr. approved me to start transitioning out of the boot into a shoe, starting with 1-2 hrs/day while using a light brace/wrap.  She is confident that I'll be able to line up at the start of Comrades, but to bring my boot to Africa, as while I'm unlikely to do any long term damage, I am likely to aggravate the injury and wind up swollen and sore.  That sounds like fantastic news to me!

Monday, March 31, 2014

Rain, Snow, Funnel Clouds, Lucy... AR 50M must be coming, so are Miwok and Comrades!

First of all, I'm excited to report that I've reached (and surpassed) my Comrades (ultra) Marathon fundraising goal!!!  I'm overwhelmed by the donations and amount of support I've received from my friends and family.  As I write this, we've raised $536.08 (my goal was $500) for the Wildlands Conservation Trust!  Additionally, I've found that the amount of money raised places me 23rd out of the 387 Comrades charity runners and 3rd out of the 60 runners who are raising money for Wildlands!

I will continue to GREATLY APPRECIATE any donations that can be made.
Please, feel free to donate: Click Here

The latest fundraising totals for Comrades charity runners can be found here: http://www.comrades.com/charities/race-4-charity.

Secondly, the American River 50 Mile Endurance run is almost here, oh my!  With my recent race schedule and life events (just bought a new home and will be moving shortly!), it really snuck up on me!  On Saturday, April 5, I will be running my third consecutive AR 50 Mile and am looking forward to receiving another jacket and in some sense, what it takes to get that jacket.

Aside from that, my Dad and I enjoyed a fantastic day on the slopes of Sierra at Tahoe last week and I've taken advantage of a couple of opportunities to enjoy the weather and our local Sierra Nevada mountains.

Friday ski day!
Dad and I hitting the slopes.
On the drive to and from Sierra at Tahoe, I observed that it might be a good idea to get some trail time on the slopes of Ralston Peak.  On Saturday, I ran 14 miles with the Folsom Trail Runners, and on Sunday I scooped up Lucy for a spontaneous trip up the hill.  We scampered around on the mostly snow-covered trails on the slopes of Ralston.
Let's do this.

Lucy, Pyramid Peak.

~7,500 ft.


Managed to not get stuck up here.
Back in Folsom, a long stretch of beautiful weather was interrupted by... some beautiful weather, which brought funnel clouds, lightning, and periods of heavy rain to the area.  I nearly skipped out on my run to take a nap, and very well may have, had I not caught a glimpse of an impressive looking radar map!  I flipped on the news and saw that funnel clouds were being reported in the area.  I sprung up off the couch and got on my running gear.  The pictures that follow will explain why.
One of my favorite local oak trees, during the first batch of beautiful weather.
Lucy and a funnel cloud, getting their rotation on.

Above average looking sunset.

Saturday AM brought more sustained rain.  I had the good fortune to enjoy a 10 mile run with friends in it.  Shortly thereafter, it seemed a good idea to drive up highway 50 to grab some Might Tacos at the Cozmic Cafe in Placerville and then play in the snow with Lucy.
Ramon, as usual, chose to stay home.
Looks like a good place to stop.

Not even chasing anything, just loves running.

Lucy met Emily near Echo Lakes

Dreaming of getting back to the mountains.

Flashback to the 2012 American River 50, my first 50 mile run.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Way Too Los Angeles Cool 50k Marathon

For many, the weekend of March 8 and 9 may have simply represented an opportunity to get out and relax in the beautiful California sunshine, to take it all in;  lush green grass blanketing the rolling foothills,  the sounds of young birds chirping with excitement, colorful butterflies dancing across the scene.  Or for those on the East Coast, maybe just another bland stretch of time to survive by huddling together for protection from the iced wind and wickedly driven snow.
92.2k worth of running gear

This weekend has weighed on my mind for months now.  I had gone and signed up for the 2014 Way Too Cool 50k and LA Marathon.  Their start lines and times were 400 miles and 23 hours apart, respectively.  I was booked to fly from Sacramento to LA on a 6 pm flight and knew that I would need to finish in the top half of the Way Too Cool 50k field in order to give myself three hours to get from the finish line to the airport (a ~40 minute drive from Cool).

By the time Friday, March 07 rolled around, I was tingling with excitement and trepidation.  The time to question my plan and my fitness had passed.  I focused on addressing each item on my weekend's itinerary individually, only as its need to be addressed became pressing.  I stayed "in the now".  I verified my flight and hotel reservations, I printed boarding passes, I laid out my running gear for both races, I packed, I ate, I re-checked my gear 40 times and threw it and my luggage in my truck, at ~8:00 pm, I put on my running shorts, socks, and tank, and went to sleep.  I put in a solid 9+ hours of nighty-night.

Saturday, March 08, 2014:
I woke up at 5:15 AM, ate a "grilled yeast" (my invention... two pieces of toast, earth balance "buttery spread", and nutritional yeast.  Tastes kinda like grilled cheese) and a PB&J sandwich, and drove off to Cool, CA.  I arrived in Cool shortly before 7 AM and proceeded to follow the long line of cars into the designated parking area (no idea why I didn't park at the Holiday Market lot).  I wound up parking ~0.75 miles from the start/finish, which actually made for a nice little warm-up and cool-down walk.

I mingled, I browsed, I chatted, I snapped pictures with friends.  The Way Too Cool 50k is a classic, extremely well-run, locally organized event in its 25th year and as usual the pre-race atmosphere was electric.  Tunes pumping through the sound system and the upbeat chatter of old and new friends filled the air.  At ~7:50 AM, I meandered into the Wave 1 starting corral and waited for the gun.  I planned to be back here in roughly 6 hours.  Before I knew it (literally) the race had begun.  When I realized that the crowd wasn't just scooting up towards the start line, but crossing it, I started my watch and got to it.

I had settled in towards the back of the ~1200 person field as I was in no rush.  I passed some and was passed by others.  After a mile or so, I saw my friend Erica, who I ran and chatted with for most of the first ~8 mile loop.  It was a beautiful day and I was taking it in, cruising the trails and stomping through mud and stream crossings, of which there was no shortage.
Erica doing her best to cool me off with a kick full of water.
I very nearly ate it in mile 7 when I caught my foot on a root during a short, steep downhill at a small stream crossing, but was able to keep my feet in front of my center of gravity and enjoyed a miraculous recovery.  That experience was good for a muddy leg and a lot of laughs.

One muddy leg.
I came into the first aid station at mile 8 feeling terrific.  The group of friends I had been running with thus far became separated amidst the hustle and bustle of the cheering crowds and the opportunity to take in some food and drink.  I enjoyed half of a banana and a quarter of a PB&J sandwich.

Saying hi to Steve and eating a banana, mile 8.
I ran out of the aid station and headed into the Cool meadows before letting my legs loose a bit, enjoying some smooth ~8 minute miles, during the ~3 mile downhill stretch to the first Highway 49 crossing.  I crossed the highway and ran into the Lower Quarry aid station at mile 11, where I stirred up a few scoops of Perpetuem with some water, chugged it, and headed out onto the Quarry road.  I cruised along the American River and continued to feel comfortable.  I hit the halfway (15.5 mile) mark in 2 hours 50 minutes, which was right on pace for a ~6 hour finish considering that the majority of the elevation gain comes in the second half of the course.

Mid-point selfie.
At some point over the course of the next 10 miles I began to fatigue and in the moment, life became more difficult.  My journey through the familiar trails started to feel compulsory and my steps grew laborious.  I certainly wasn't experiencing any difficulties that I had not encountered and overcome during previous adventures and races, but it had become clear that the seemingly effortless 50k experience that I had enjoyed 2 weeks prior at the Fourmidable 50k, was indeed a 2 week old experience.  I was going to have to push through some discomfort for today's finish.  Interestingly, Fourmidable 50k is considerably more difficult course, but every day on the trails brings its own challenges and today's were proving to be more difficult despite the more forgiving course.  Forgive me, I'll suck it up and stop whining now.

Top of Goat Hill
I climbed up out of the river canyon and ran through the Maine Bar aid station, throwing back some soda and potato chips on my way through.  I jostled through the forest along some of my favorite stretches of the Western States trail, doing my best to appreciate the trees, ferns, moss covered rocks, stream crossings, and cushy single track.   Eventually I made it to Goat Hill, a big milestone along the course, marking the steepest climb of the day, the crest of which is roughly the marathon distance.  I made a strong push up the hill, put my smile on, said hello to a handful of friends at the top, grabbed some soda and fresh fruit at the aid station, and moved on.

I kept on trucking.  I wasn't moving very fast at this point, but I was moving.  My body felt good, albeit quite tired.  I had no acute pain, no aches or problematic tightness, and I knew I'd have no problem staying settled into my current pace and sniffing out the finish line.  I crossed Highway 49 for the second time, and began the climb back up to Cool.  One can smell the finish line from here and before you know it I was up at the Cool meadow again, less than a mile from the end.  And suddenly, there I was, back where I started.  The infectious cheer of the finish-line crowds lifted me up as a rolled on in to the finish, stomping straight through one last trough of swampy, muddy goodness.  I finished in 6 hours 3 minutes
Done for the day
Hoover Jones

Karyn got me back to good with a Recovery Pump demo!

I thoroughly snacked, chatted, re-capped, drank, and consumed all of the recovery, drink, re-capping, chatting, and snacking that was to be had at the finish.  Suddenly it was 3:30 PM.  I had a 6:20 PM flight to catch.  I jogged the 3/4 mile to my car and drove off to the shower and the pile of food.  I made it to the airport with time to spare and time to make a new acquaintance, Mitch.  He was wearing a Way Too Cool 50k medal and told me he was en route to LA so he could run the LA Marathon in the morning.  What a guy.

We flew to LAX, caught a pricey cab fair to Santa Monica, checked into our hotel, and roamed out to the 3rd St. Promenade, where I sniffed out a Chipotle.  Nothing like a huge Chipotle burrito at past 10 PM, the night before a marathon.  I got back to the hotel, slithered into bed shortly after 11 PM and fell to sleep.

Sunday, March 09, 2014:
As I slept some genius decided to skip an hour of the lovely night, delivering 4 AM an hour ahead of schedule.  My alarm sounded, my wake-up call called.  I scooped up my 4 hours of sleep, ate a banana, a few large scoops of peanut butter, then threaded myself through my running shorts and singlet, and squished my feet into my still-wet-and-muddy shoes, before stumbling out into the darkness in seek of a race shuttle.
Tired, not really hungry anymore.
Almost marathon time.

After a short 2 block walk, I landed the front-most seat on a 5 AM shuttle and was whisked away onto a ~30 minute voyage, ending at Dodger Stadium.  My fellow runners and I piled out of the bus and headed for the stadium.  I happened upon a bagel, loaded it with some peanut butter I had brought along, made myself comfortable in section 48, and waited for Billy (who picked up my marathon bib from the expo) & Co., who would arrive shortly.  I scrounged up some safety pins, dropped off my drop bag and headed into the sea of 25,000 runners with Billy, Lori, and Kieran, where we enjoyed a fantastic sunrise and stood around for a while.

Billy, Kieran, Lori, and I enjoying the sunrise.

The national anthem, Randy Newman singing "I Love LA, seemed just like last year, except my legs were way more tired.  The mob and I began our shuffle towards the starting line.  Billy, Lori, Kieran, and I started running together and did so for the first ~10k, but what would typically be a casual pace (9:00-9:30 min/miles) for me was feeling difficult and I was putting out more effort than I wanted to, to keep up, specifically on any uphill grades.  After a short, steep climb, we passed the Disney Concert Hall, and my gaze was captured by a group of people queued up in front of a few porta-potties.  I thought to myself "thanks again for grabbing my race pack, nice running, see you all later", abruptly dropped off the pack without saying a word, and joined the fine folks in the porta-potty line (I would do so again in mile 11 and mile 16.  I blame the late night Chipotle burrito.)  The bathroom line was long and sucked up a good 5 minutes (I think I spent ~15-20 mins in the three bathroom lines I visited during the race).

I resumed my expedition at a more "comfortable" (I use that word loosely) and, what I figured to be, more sustainable pace.  For a very brief moment during maybe the 8th mile I allowed the idea of stopping at a cafe for some food and then taking a cab to Santa Monica enter my mind.  I would never do such a thing.  I knew that I would continue on, that I would persevere, I would withstand any discomfort or monotony that this day had in store for me.  I do not quit endeavors such as this.  I would move forth, with a smile on my face.

Mile 13, feeling "fantastic".

For miles and miles, I progressed towards the beaches of Santa Monica.  I let my mind drift at times, away from the thoughts and feelings that demanded I stop running.  I focused on the spectators and on other runners, knowing that each person was out conquering their own challenges.  It's amazing to see the love, happiness, hugs, and cheer that are expressed when a group of family and friends sees "their runner" 15, 20, or 25 miles into their race.

I was able to cruise along at a ~10:30 min/mile pace without too much grief, so that is what I did.  It was warm out, temps in the 80's, and was becoming hot.  I occasionally reminded myself that this would end in x hours/miles and that the familiar reward would be well worth it.  People all around me were struggling and enduring, together we marched on.

Cruising past a "walker" (Walking Dead)

21-22 miles in, as I pleaded with the road ahead to present to me the start of the long descent to Ocean Ave, I caught a glimpse of and high-fived "The Unicorn" (who had just run down from the mountains) as he cheered on runners.  A mile or two later, I shared a quick "hello" with Jimmy Freeman, who piled on 1500 miles (or something like that, OK maybe ~30+) while pacing and cheering on LA Marathon runners.  I counted down the street numbers from 28th Ave down to Ocean (1st) Ave.  I didn't have much of a kick, I just maintained my pace and ran through the heat, en route to my 18th marathon or longer race finish.  It happened, on a day that recorded a record high of 88 degrees at the finish line, 4 hours 42 minutes 41 seconds after I started, I ran through the arch, received my medal, and rejoiced with Candace, my sister, and my fellow runners (I even bumped into Emil in the finisher's area)!

~1/4 mile left
Felt so good to be done!
LA Marathon #2 complete

I had been looking forward to this "beach time" for weeks!
Not pictured: me icing my legs in the water for 1/2 hr.

Just like The Karate Kid, I once believed I could not, but
I could... and I did.

Some race stats