Friday, August 15, 2014

Coastal Crystal Springs - nearly camera free!

Mrs Notthat and I've been involved with around 170 races since 2010. We've got race day down. So why, on Saturday, did we both show up missing key items? Mrs Notthat forgot her iPod and GPS watch. That's troubling but nothing like my tragedy; I forgot my camera.

Oh, I've had to run parts of races without a camera several times, seeing as how I've managed to kill so many of them in the middle of a race, but I'm pretty sure I've never lined up at the starting line without one in my hand.

I contemplated a DNS (Did Not Start), but was reminded by Mrs Notthat that technically, I did have a camera - my iPhone. The phone can take pretty good pictures, but trying to use a touchscreen when you're sweaty and trying to bounce along the trail is challenging.

For a normal Half Marathon, I take between 80 and 100 pictures. For this one though, I took 20. Which is sad because it's a great course that I've run a number of times before - Coastal's Crystal Springs race out of Huddart Park is always a blast with great trails shared with many friends.

The race starts with a fun single-track downhill bit that gets you nice and warmed up for the LONG uphill bit.

Eventually you make it up to the aid station at mile 6, which this year, had live entertainment! I had to resist the urge to plop myself down and enjoy the rest of the morning there.

However, Nosila (not her real name, and a two year veteran of the Last Chance Car Wash at WSER 100) wasn't having any of it, and threatened to dump a pitcher of electrolytes on me if I didn't get going.

Then things got weird.

When you leave this aid station, you cross a small road and head out along the Skyline trail for a bit over a mile before you turn around and head back to this aid station.

I crossed this road while a number of faster runners were already coming back from the turnaround, and a couple of cars had to pause for a second. I was trudging along with a hand full of M&Ms when a window rolled down and my boss's ex-boss called out my name.

I was totally stunned - if I was a tiny bit slower or faster she never would have seen me. Naturally I had to get a picture of this, but I only had one free hand; it took a bit but I managed to grab this shot as she pulled away.

A cool thing about this out-and-back is that it gives me a chance to see how far ahead or behind various runners are. Mrs Notthat wasn't as far ahead of me as I thought she was. (Note that I couldn't get the phone out fast enough to get a front picture, and had to settle for this shot of her running away from me.) I was closer to her than I thought I would be, but I knew there was a lot of fine downhill coming up so I had no chance of catching her.

It was a little hard to miss the Half turnaround.
The Half turnaround at mile 8.5 is actually well past the race's halfway point. Even better, 85% of the climbing is done. I smiled and turned to fly to the finish. And shortly tripped over an imaginary rock and fell. Hard. Nothing was broken and I wasn't bleeding too much, so I brushed myself off and kept on going.

And then faced my arch-nemisis, Yram (not her real name). She was not that far behind me, and I was relieved that she did not witness the epic fall. But seeing her gave me the boost I needed to pick up the pace and try to get this done before she had a chance to catch me.

If you haven't heard, California is in a major drought. I've never seen this area so brown before.
The finish line never looked so great! The funny thing was that I had spent the last few miles being really bummed by how slow my finish time was going to be. My conservative goal had been to beat 3:30, but I was going to miss out on that. I crossed the finish line at what I figured was a 3:38 time - not all that bad, but I really thought I had been doing better than that.

When I looked at the results, I saw a time of 3:08, which I figured was a timing error. And then I remembered that we started a half hour later than the longer distance runners; in my mind I was sure we had started at 8:30 and was doing the math based on that.

Here's the really stupid part - all I had to do was look at my GPS watch and I would have seen what my actual time was; math was not required. I swear that not having my camera dropped my IQ by 30 points, and I really don't have enough spare points to be losing any.

I had tried to talk Mrs Notthat into upgrading to the 22 mile race since there were so many runners in her age group in the Half and none in the longer distance. But she made a rude face at me and stuck with the Half. And won third in her age group (I had forgotten that when there are a lot of runners in a particular distance, Coastal switches to 5 year age groups instead of 10 year groups).

In addition to that, she had beaten me by almost ten minutes, and broke her course PR by a whole 12 seconds! And had fallen twice in that same area that I had fallen (note her right knee).

I missed out on an age group award by less than two minutes, but broke my course PR by six minutes.

The back of my shirt and vest, showing the bits of the trail I brought home with me.
This race, as always, was a blast, even if I didn't have a proper camera. And Mrs Notthat said that she ended up not missing her iPod as much as she thought she would.

However, I think we've already got the things packed and ready to go for this weekend's Brazen Bear Creek race.

That's it - move along…

PS: You can see a (very) few more of my pictures here.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

15 days - Four 10Ks - Not an ageless wonder

Mrs Notthat and I really don't run very many 10Ks since we normally run the Half Marathon distance, which makes it a bit unusual to run four 10Ks in a row like this. But things happen and sometimes unusual becomes the norm.

The four races were very different from each other, and I'll go through each of them in a bit. But first, let's talk about that Ageless Wonder thing.

There's a 10K in Boulder Colorado called the Bolder Boulder. It's the largest timed race in the country with around 54,000 finishers this year. The cool thing is that they came up with the Ageless Wonder award that's given to anyone who runs the 10K in fewer minutes than their age. A math guy by the name of Nafets (not his real name) who had run the Boulder race explained the concept to Mr Brazen, and Mr Brazen decided to track that odd little stat here.

I'm not fast, but I am pretty old, so it's not quite an impossible dream to attain Ageless Wonder status (in my case, less than 57 minutes). But it's not going to come easy.

Inside Trail Racing Table Rock

I don't lose sleep over very many 10Ks, but this one had me a bit nervous. The website proudly stated that the 10K sported 2600 feet of climbing, which is more than most trail Half Marathons I've done.

The ITR Table Rock event had two distances: 10K and 27K. It started at Stinson Beach, where we have done many races, but it used two trails we had never been on, which explained that huge elevation number. We opted for the 10K since that sounded suitably challenging.

There's a big hill hidden in the fog. It being hidden likely kept some road runners from fleeing the area.
The race almost immediately had us starting in on the Big Climb, up Willow Camp trail (after a small amount of wandering around the streets of Stinson Beach, which were also all uphill).

Stopping to take pictures was a good way to catch your breath. I took a lot of pictures.
I'm reasonably convinced that the Willow Camp trail is actually a prank just to mess with dim tourists and to tempt sadistic race directors. The trails in the Marin Headlands are extremely popular, and you always see clumps of normal people hiking around on them. Except the Willow Camp trail. We had that one to ourselves.

The one fun thing about the trail was that it quickly got you up to where you had some nice views while doubled-over catching your breath. Although the higher we got, the more our views were compromised by the fog.

Once we got to the top of the hill, we were on the Coastal trail. The major climbing was done, but the chances of dying had increased. This trail, which is in need of a bit of love, clings to the side of a steep hillside. If you trip (and I do, often), you could end up tumbling 100 feet down that hill before you had a chance to say a bad word. The one thing in our favor was that the fog hid the views from us, so at least we didn't have that distraction to worry about.

My favorite part of the course, and not just because it was almost all downhill, was the Matt Davis trail. This was like running through a rainforest, albeit a rainforest that seems to be actively trying to trip you up with roots, rocks, fallen branches, and wildly non-OSHA approved stairs scattered around.

I knew there was no chance for Ageless Wonder status with this race, and was actually just trying to finish in under two hours (yes, for a 10K!). I made that goal (not by a lot) and was surprised to learn I'd won an age group award, as had Mrs Notthat (who finished about four minutes ahead of me). I'm not going to mention that mine was by default - there were only three of us in that age group - while Mrs Notthat was first in hers, and actually beat three others.

You can see more of my pictures from this race here.

Brazen Bad Bass

We normally run the Half at the Brazen Bad Bass race, but since it was the day before the Wharf to Wharf race, we wisely chose to just run the 10K.

This 10K also includes a big climb, but after the climb at last week's race, this one was pretty tame.

The course is an out-and-back with a quirky start that mostly serves to give us two chances to hear the bagpipers.

Yes - bagpipers.

Lake Chabot is named after Tony Chabot, a Canadian with a fondness for kilts. (I made that kilt bit up, since otherwise the Scottish theme was going nowhere.) The park does not allow events to use amplified music, so Mr Brazen brings in bagpipers to play the hits of famed Scottish band AC-DC. (I made that bit up too, but AC-DC on bagpipes is not to be missed.)

"Back in Black Baby!"

The course starts with about a mile and a half of paved trail that follows the shore. It is mildly rolling and fairly pleasant.

One of the things I do is make up goals. Some are easy and some are pretty hard. The 5K course is the same as the first bit of the 10K course, except we get a 10 minute head start. Last year I was passed by Nairb (not his real name) just before I got to his turnaround. This year, my primary race goal was to make it to the turnaround before him.

I was cruising along well and figured I had it in the bag when I heard the pacer bike coming up behind me, yelling for people to clear a path for the lead runner. I knew the turnaround couldn't be that much further ahead, so I took off in a sprint and managed to beat Nairb there by nearly five seconds - it was a blast! I had taunted him with this goal before the race, and he smiled as he turned around (there may have been a rude gesture, but I was basking in the glow of thrashing him and didn't really notice).

Sadly, that short sprint pretty much did me in, and I wasn't even a third of the way through the race.

Evil Ylrac (not her real name, and she's not really evil) telling me that, yes, I must cross the Bridge of Death.
My most hated bit of this course is the Bridge of Death, a wildly unstable suspension thing that serves no purpose other than to torment me. When you do the Half race, you only have to cross it once. With the 10K, you have to cross it twice. [insert impressive eye roll here]

If you manage to survive the Bridge of Death, you are treated to the Hill of Death which, after the previous weekend, was demoted to the Hill of Moderate Annoyance.

At the 10K turnaround is an aid station, and as a treat, it was staffed by our daughter, Weird Haired Mom, and the grandkids (who had stayed with us the week before this race).

After that turnaround, you fly back down the hill and brave the bridge one more time.

After struggling over that bridge, you are back on pavement with about a mile and a half to the finish. I was exhausted and abandoned my goal of beating last year's time.

But then I spotted The Endorphin Dude just a bit ahead of me. He was walking the 5K since he was running the SF Marathon the next day and the Burning River 100M race in Ohio (where rivers have actually caught fire occasionally) the following weekend.

I had no sympathy though, and saw my chance to beat him.

The Endorphin Dude carrying Chewbacca, a fierce chiweenie that sadly has a cast on a broken foot.
For the second time in this race, I did a sprint thing so that I could blow past him and totally break his spirit. It nearly did the opposite though; he yelled "this is not going to happen" and took off after me, which put me in a panic since my sprint had been a bluff and I was likely going to have to crawl to the finish line from here. But he had mercy on me, remembered his goal for the day, and let me go.

Mrs Notthat beat me handily, but neither of us won age group awards (she was close though). I didn't set a course PR, but was happy just to have survived that bridge.

You can see more of my pictures here.

Wharf to Wharf

Technically, Wharf to Wharf is not a 10K; it's about 0.2 miles short. But that's close enough for my purposes; it's not close enough for me to count it as an Ageless Wonder race, but if I could break one hour here, I would definitely feel better about my chances the following weekend.

This was our fifth time running this race. It has two things I try to avoid: Pavement and large crowds (this year had 16,000 registered runners). But it also has nearly 50 live bands (using a fairly liberal definition of that phrase) along the course, which makes it go by pretty fast.

It's definitely entertaining!

The point-to-point race starts near the wharf in Santa Cruz and finishes near the wharf in Capitola. Between the two are lots of distractions that keep you preoccupied, which means the race is over much quicker than it seems it should be.

The actual start line is at those balloons WAY up there.
The race divided the runners into four waves and put us in the second wave. There were about 4000 runners that started before us. And about 8000 that started after us. Sheesh.

Keeping the Scottish theme going, the second band was this bagpipe thing.

Keeping the "Keep Santa Cruz Weird" theme going, we went past the Great Morgani.

Each mile was marked with a rainbow of balloons. By mile two things had loosened up a bit and it wasn't as hard to go at your own pace as this picture makes it look.

Most of the bands were like this - fairly generic rock-type things.

Some bands were pretty wildly non-generic.

There was a real advantage to not requiring power - this group had the best spot along the course.

If you look hard, you can see the Capitola wharf down there - the finish line is nearly in sight.

One of the most difficult things about this race is the logistics; being point-to-point you do not finish where your car is. The race runs shuttles from the finish to a large parking lot that is about 1.5 miles from the start, and before the race, they run shuttles from the parking lot to the start. If you play by the rules, and don't fool around too much in the finish area, the system works pretty well.

The funniest thing happened once we got off the shuttle and started to hike to where our car was (about halfway between the parking area and the start - we don't do well playing by the rules); Mrs Notthat noticed that the guy walking beside me was wearing the same shirt as I. That by itself was pretty cool, but when she called out my name to tell me about it, he turned around too - not only does he have the same first name, but he spells it the same way! The sad (to me) bit is that he is 73 and looks younger than me, and finished the race about four minutes ahead of me.

I resisted the urge to trip him.

I did not finish in under one hour, but I was close enough that I was OK with it. Mrs Notthat beat me by just a little over a minute. And there was absolutely no chance for age group awards.

You can see more of my pictures here.

Brazen Summer Breeze

This is a race, along with it's cousin Bay Breeze, that we generally go through trouble to avoid. It's much more suited to road runners since it's flat and a lot of it is paved. For that reason, it ends up being a really popular race.

But this year, Mrs Notthat and I targeted this as the race at which we were most likely to get the Ageless Wonder thing done. So we signed up for the 10K.

The course is an out-and-back that loosely follows the San Francisco Bay shoreline.

Normally, large trail runs might have 150-200 runners in a particular distance. For this 10K, there were 464 finishers.

The first quarter mile or so were pretty crowded, but once we made it to that proper bridge, the trail widened out a bit and we were able to freely move at our own pace, which was good since I was really focussed on that Ageless Wonder thing.

I normally start at the very back of the pack so that I can feed my ego a tiny bit by passing one or two people. For this race, I started about two thirds of the way back. Mrs Notthat started much closer to the front and had a much less crowded start (she's wise that way). It took me a bit, but I managed to catch her at about mile one.

I took this to mean that I had gone out too fast and was doomed, and I totally expected that she would be passing my crumpled body in just a little bit.

Eventually I made it to the turnaround point, and started my "sprint" to the finish. My pace here meant I was going to have to speed up a bit to get my Ageless Wonder thing, and one thing I'm not known for is negative splits. I was feeling a tiny bit doomed, but who knows - maybe I had another gear left in me somewhere.

The Brazen Rabbit pretending to be an orange cone. An adorable orange cone dressed in black. With pink ribbons.
When I reached the point on the course where the 5K runners turned around, I was a bit worried. The 5K runners started 15 minutes after us, which meant that there were still a LOT of them on the course, and they were mostly the slower ones, which meant I would have to be weaving a lot to get through them and keep my pace up.

I knew by now that the Ageless Wonder thing was not going to happen, but I figured I still had a great chance to get a sub-one hour finish and a 10K PR. So I pushed on, and surprised myself to find it was fun weaving around and passing the slower 5K runners - my ego was ballooning out of control!

The finish line. This grassy bit was pretty to look at, but was actually very soggy and not all that fun, at least if your goal was to get a PR.

What was so funny?
Picture by Ecinreb (not her real name).
They were very amused that I had stolen someone's age group award. Except I hadn't. Both Mrs Notthat and I ended up getting third in our age group, and each of us beat a number of others - this came as a incredible surprise to both of us; this is a very competitive race. It's good to be old sometimes!

I ended up beating Mrs Notthat by nearly eight minutes - this is an amazingly rare occurrence and was not even vaguely on my goals list for this race. I did end up with a PR by 55 seconds, but I didn't break one hour (but so close - 1:00:03!). Another cool thing; I normally finish somewhere in the bottom quarter of the race, but for this one, I somehow managed to finish well into the top third! It was such a weird feeling (and I promise not to get used to it).

You can see more pictures here.

Wrapping Up (Finally)

The guy on the right is who gets the blame for putting dreams of being an Ageless Wonder in my head. Thanks Nafets!

15 days, four 10Ks (with an asterisk by one of them), and no Ageless Wonder. But I did get a PR and four nice shirts and a fair number of medals to hang on the wall.

These races were all over the place with their different personalities, and they were all fun in their own ways.

Now we have three consecutive Half Marathons coming up (Coastal Crystal Springs, Brazen Bear Creek, and GECKO Devil Mountain in Colorado).

Hopefully Nafets isn't going to come up with another clever goal for Half races - I can't wait to get back to spending hours slogging up hills!

That's it - move along…

Monday, July 21, 2014

Dirty Dozen take four

For the fourth year in a row, I signed up for the 12 hour race at the Brazen Dirty Dozen. For the fourth year in a row, I had as my "A" goal to get to 50 miles in that 12 hours. And for the fourth year in a row I was reminded that 50 miles is a long ways.

Above is my GPS data from the event. The big loop was 3.33 miles long and the little loop (to the bottom-right) was 0.65 miles long. For 11 hours we would try to run as many big loops as possible, and then for the last hour, we would run as many little loops as possible. (Only loops that you complete are counted, and it would not be a good feeling to be 3.32 miles through the big loop and have time expire, so the little loop provides a much less risky way to add on some miles.)

This is the GPS data from the start/finish/BBQ/usable toilet area. As you can see, there was a little bit of extracurricular wandering around. That BBQ isn't going to eat itself.

Above is the elevation chart for my race. This makes it look like there are potentially soul-crushing hills on the course, but in reality, that wasn't nearly the case (the big loop had about 150' of elevation change). The other thing this chart does is make it look like I was a machine out there, ticking off loops like clockwork! HA! That chart is plotted based on distance.

This is the same chart, but plotted based on time. That's more like it - the first few loops were fairly consistent, and then things started unraveling a bit. Note the long flat spot after the 8th loop - I sat in the start/finish area for a bit before convincing myself to head out again. At that point I had officially gone a Marathon distance, and there was a part of me that felt that was pretty good. But I was dragged back out for another lap, and then peer pressure happened and I managed to knock out two of my fastest loops of the day. The end of the chart shows the little loops that I did - they weren't exactly flat, but not far from it.

For the second time, the course was tweaked a tiny bit, replacing a "hill" with this nice shoreline single-track stretch.

Picture by Mick, Brazen volunteer.
Above I am "flying" along that new trail, being chased Divad (not his real name) who carried that flag and a backpack full of bricks while doing his loops. (Yes, my small water bottle got pretty heavy too, thanks for asking.)

Kind of a funny thing is that there is an aid station halfway through that big loop. The idea is to allow runners not named Divad to go as light as possible, and possibly even get by without carrying any hydration at all. Slow runners like me though, still need to carry something, so I carried a small handheld bottle. That worked fine while it was still overcast and cool, but once the sun came out, I would end up draining that bottle between the aid stations (this one and the one at the start/finish area).

Every time you finished a loop, you had to run the gauntlet of canopies, tents, and other items filled with spectators or other runners (there were a few fixed-distance races scattered throughout the day, as well as teams, so the smart runners got to relax for a lap as someone else wandered around the trail).

The gauntlet was generally a blast to pass through, although it was also a great mental test since it looked like it was a lot more fun to be sitting there than slogging around the loop.

There were two parts of the course that were less than ideal: A weird short detour around a new bathroom that was being installed (which meant passing by an old one that smelled so bad, even from a distance, that it was hard to imagine anyone being brave enough to try it out), and this stretch of trail through what appeared to have been a controlled burn.

Picture by Brazen volunteer. Mrs Notthat and others storming down a short downhill bit.
Clockie was wearing a Western States belt buckle. If Clockie gave some advice, for example, "Pick it up Frog Boy!" you should probably listen.
To help motivate people, Clockie was often seen wandering around the course. Clockie gets the blame for shaking me out of my walking mode and getting me to turn in those two fast loops at the end.

My token "Hall of Trees" shot - I love running through this stretch with the creaky eucalyptus trees.

The Brazen Rabbit was busy during the day putting up motivational signs. When you saw her out riding Spokes around, you knew fresh signs were in your future.

Like this.

Weird Haired Mom and Mrs Notthat passing through the start/finish area. I think she is threatening me with a piece of watermelon. (Mrs Notthat ended up getting 10 loops done!)

I innocently decided to walk a 9th lap after sitting for a bit - my revised goal was to get to 10 laps which gets you a 50K - and was minding my own business about half way around when Clockie got ahold of me. "Let's pick up the pace a bit" he said, and before I knew it, I was actually running again. By far the most glorious result of that was getting to pass Sirhc (not his real name). I managed to pass him once last year, but he was battling an injury that most people would have been hospitalized for; this year there were no excuses. (He still managed WAY more distance than me, and then spent the following weekend running the TRT 100 mile race. But I passed him this one time, so that's the bit I'll focus on.)

Photo by Nek, not his real name.
I love this shot - it makes me almost look like a real runner! When I finished that 9th lap, the afternoon 5K/10K was getting ready to start, so I flew through the gauntlet to get as much of a head start on them as possible.

It's not a Marathon; it's a sprint!
Once I finished my 10th lap, I was pretty much done. That burst of energy had drained me, so I sat for a bit, ate some BBQ, and waited for the little loop to open. My intent was to do two little loops which would get me to 35 miles.

A special arch and timing mat just for the little loop!

The little loop started with an avenue of trees. It was a bit downhill (which meant there was a bit of an uphill coming up), but it was really an easy loop which was perfect for tired runners.

When I finished my second loop, I was ready to sneak off and be done, but guess who I saw coming at me.


As a total shocker, I ended up doing seven of those dang loops, which brought my final total to 37.25 miles in the 12 hours. And Clockie gets the credit for me getting more than the 50K I was prepared to settle for. (For those of you that read my Western States thing, Clockie was Mr "All Day" Ken, who actually is a coach and does the entertaining Running Stupid podcast.)

The 6- and 12-hour runners got a great hoodie and a finisher's medal that doubles as a coaster and bottle opener. And maybe a weapon.

A special thing about this event was that it was Brazen's 100th event! Mr Brazen designed this flag (on the t-shirt that the 5K and 10K runners got) that's pretty cool since it lists all of their events.

I couldn't resist going through that list and working out which events I had been at. (Green are events I ran, blue are events I volunteered at, yellow are events I got a DNF at, events with no color are the ones I missed.)

Dirty Dozen is a great event. I know many of you would rather paint yourself with honey and try to pet a bear than run a looping race, and I would agree most of the time. Dirty Dozen is a bit different though, and worth a shot. The trails are varied and fun, the BBQ is great (as is the pizza that shows up around lunch time), and the atmosphere can't be beat. And if you are not up to the timed events, it's pretty novel to run a 5K in the late morning or a 10K in the late afternoon.

And besides, everyone needs the Swiss Army Knife of finisher medals.

That's it - move along…

PS: You can see more of my pictures here.