Sunday, September 20, 2015

Why you shouldn't follow me in a race

I like to think that I've got a pretty good sense of direction, which is only natural, since I'm a guy. At work, I often do a lunch walk that works out to be about 35 minutes long, a bit over two miles. The other day, I headed out to do it.

The star is where I start.

I head out and make a right at the first cross street.

I normally do some zig-zagging on the streets. It adds a bit of distance with little risk of getting lost. But since the city of Cupertino hates me, they decided to rip up the sidewalks on those streets, so zig-zagging was out of the question.

I went over to the street that normally marks my west boundary, and headed up to the cross street.

I could cut the walk short and just head back, but I decided to keep going past that street into the Great Unknown. I assumed that if I went a bit, made a left, went a bit more and made another left, I would end up on that same street I made the first turn on.

How could that fail? (And yes, complicating this was that I didn't know the actual name of any of these streets. I did know that the street I started on began with an "s" - that should be good enough, right?)

It failed badly. I made a left, then another left. And walked and walked. After about 15 minutes, I realized I had no idea where I was. I pulled out my phone and opened the maps app.

It's not possible that my two lefts could have possibly put me way up there, is it? I looked at the roads later, and the turns should have mostly worked as I had expected, but there was a bit of goofiness and it was possible to get turned around a bit. BUT NOT THAT MUCH!


Give me trails any day. (Although, it did turn out to be a nice, nearly one hour walk.)

That's it - move along…

Making "night sweats" sound fun

Since 2007, Pacific Coast Trail Runs has put on the most celebrated 100M race in the Bay Area - the Headlands Hundred. The race is based on a 25 mile course that lends itself to 100M, 75M, and 50M distances, and with a one mile bonus out-and-back, a Marathon.

A simplified course map of the 25 mile "loop." It's run washing machine style, meaning you start each loop going the opposite direction you started the last one.
The 25 mile course has over 5000 feet of climbing, with lots of ups and downs and very little flat. A nice thing about this race is that it provides a way to stretch yourself if you are not up to a 100M distance, since you can run the 50M with generous cutoffs.

Last year, the fun people at PCTR decided to add a set of night races to the event. This allows runners that don't normally get to do a night run on trails the chance to try it out. It also gets some fresh legs on the course at a time when the longer distance runners could use a little company. Called the Night Sweats, there is a Marathon and a 15K distance.

I have wanted to run the Night Sweats Marathon ever since it was first announced, but there always seemed to be a conflict. And this year was no different - Mrs Notthat and I were signed up for the Sunday version of the Beat the Blerch race up in Washington. But as this race approached, neither of us felt particularly motivated to do the leg work necessary to make that trip, and Mrs Notthat was not going to be able to run the Half in any case.

So we decided to eat the Blerch race (ha ha ha, sigh…), which meant I had a free weekend, and before I stopped to think too much about it, I was signed up for the Night Sweats Marathon.

No, I'm not trained enough for a Marathon with that much climbing, but I still went into this thinking that I could bluff my way through. The race has a seven hour time limit, but that's pretty soft. Of more concern was a cutoff at the halfway point - you basically had to do a five hour Half Marathon to be allowed to continue. I don't know how soft that was, but I knew I could manage that with ease.

Be careful about what you "know."

I knew quite a few people that were running all the different distances offered, so it was fun to keep running into friends.  "Hi Nairb, Regor, and Regor wife, not your real names!"
It was odd sitting around all day, waiting for the 8 PM start. I am NOT a night person, and generally head to bed around 9 PM. That makes me a great candidate for not doing well at this race. I tried to take a nap in the afternoon, but all I really did was lay there and think about what all I needed to bring. I ended up arriving about two hours early.

Nad, not his real name, finishing his 50M race. Long distance runners got shirts, a coaster, and a fleece blanket.  And probably more. Maybe a puppy!

As we got closer to start time, John the RD gathered all the runners that had never run trails or at night or both - I was amazed at how many were there that were completely new to all of this! He talked about how to best use your lights, especially in the foggy bits. He talked about how to not trip and fall off a cliff. And he talked about how to be polite to all the long distance runners since they were all very tired and potentially doing some sleepwalking at this point.

All Day storming in, done with the second of his four loops.
The weather was interesting. It was warm when I left Redwood City, and warm in San Francisco when I drove through it, but once I got to Rodeo Beach, there was a very cold wind. Fortunately, I had dressed and prepared for a cold night, so I was not worried (if it had been warmer, I would have had a reason to worry though.)

Picture by Regor, not his real name. This is the oddest pose I've ever been caught in.
Just before we started, the wind died down and it felt nearly perfect. One thing I was trying for the first time was wearing a buff. Wearing a hat with a headlamp is a bit awkward for me, so I thought it would be wise to try something different. My hope was that this would keep my head warm (it did) and soak up the sweat (it did, but some still managed to get in my eyes, although the fog probably had a lot to do with that).

The 15K runners are chasing me!
The Marathon started first, right at 8 PM. We ran out on a fairly flat bit for a half mile, turned around, and came back past the start to begin the grind up the first climb. The 15K runners meanwhile were standing around, waiting for us to get out of their way.

Not counting that little out-and-back, the Marathon and 15K course shared the same trails for the first 4 miles, heading to Tennessee Valley using the standard set of trails. Most of the Marathoners would make it that 4 miles without even seeing any of the 15K runners. I, on the other hand, would get to see most of the 15K runners since I was going fairly slowly (as planned) up that first climb.

What I hadn't really counted on was how quickly the 15K runners would catch up to me, and how crowded the trails would get as they passed me, with the added excitement of a few long distance runners coming back down at us.

But this was all fine, and I was enjoying being out on this trail at night for the first time.

And then I tripped on something and nearly fell. Nad, from earlier, had warned me about these weird little bits of rebar that stick up from the ground along the side of the trail. At some point, they held barriers of some sort in place, but now they are just these really hard to see hazards. Since I was hanging to the right so runners could get past me, I was a prime target for them, and just like that, my right foot kicked one really hard. My middle toes felt like they had been chopped off - I looked down expecting to see a gaping hole in the front of my shoe with blood spurting out.

But there was none of that - just some pain and a new respect for night running on this trail. The new respect caused me to go even more conservatively, which was saying something.

Runners ahead of me as we head down that first climb.
I had two headlamps with me. One had fresh batteries and the other had fairly old batteries (I believe I last used them pacing Aynwat, not her real name, at last year's Tahoe 200). I had a new set of batteries along with me, so I felt I was nicely covered in the lighting department. I chose to use the old headlamp first just to squeeze out the last of the goody from those old batteries, and it seemed fine.

Until we got into the fog, when suddenly I had two issues: My glasses kept fogging over and the headlamp was not illuminating the ground at all. This was new to me - all of my night running had been fog-free. John the RD had warned us this would happen, and that the best thing was to hold a light down low. So I turned on my second headlamp and held it in my hand - what a huge difference that made! First of all, it was below the fog and I could really see the trail again. Second of all, it was really bright - it showed how near death those old batteries were.

The downhill into Tennessee Valley has some mildly technical bits that would have slowed me in the daylight. But with the darkness and my throbbing toes, this bit was pretty much torture. I knew I should be going faster, but my heightened cautiousness really slowed me down.

Plus I was tired. My legs were definitely feeling that first climb, but that was expected. My mind was extremely tired too though, and that was unexpected. The thing about trail running is that you can't really ever switch your mind off and just flow like you can on roads - you have to be constantly alert and focussed on the trail. Doing this at night requires even more focus, and my mind was already exhausted from this.

So as I pulled into that first aid station, mile 5 for the Marathoners (mile 4 for the 15K), I had already decided that there was no way I could be out on these trails for another 7 hours or more. I dropped to the 15K. This made me sad, but it was also a huge relief.

Sadly, I failed to get a picture of that aid station. Taking pictures at night like this is rarely successful - using a flash is really bad form since everyone's eyes are adjusted to the dark, and a flash could blind them - and I just plain forgot. The volunteers though were awesome and brave and super-heroes!

A fun thing about dropping to the 15K was that it meant I would end up hanging with Regor (not his real name) and his darling, who was doing her first night trail race.

Picture by Regor.
This is the glory of me slogging up Marincello. This whole climb was in the fog with a cold wind, which at times was at our back and at other times was coming directly at us. This was a hard climb, but it was not very technical, which was a great relief and made it actually enjoyable. Kind of.

Trust me - there is a brave volunteer there making sure we turned at the right trail.
A funny math thing - I knew that the 15K was about 9 miles. I knew that I had gone 5 miles at the aid station. I decided that meant, since I was dropping to the 15K, that I only had 4 more miles to go. I realized, while shuffling up Marincello, that my math was bogus since the aid station was only mile 4 for the 15K runners, so it was not over half way, but under.

Getting to the point where the volunteer with the flashlight was standing (it was not a pleasant spot with the wind and the fog - that guy was beyond super-hero status) was a huge relief since it meant the climb was done and we had a lot of downhill to the finish.

Don't pet the puppy.
Not long after heading down that hill, the fog and wind went away and it became fairly pleasant. At one point, a couple of long distance runners (if I did the math right, which is a stretch, I believe they had to be out on their fourth lap for the 100M) called out in an Australian accent something about dingos. I had no idea what they were going on about, but then runners that late into a race aren't known for being coherent. And then I saw this coyote, just standing alongside the trail. I kept my headlamp on him while I fumbled to get a picture.

He rolled his eyes and trotted off into the shrubs. (He had apparently been there for a while, and was likely puzzled about all these people out in his neighborhood in the middle of the night. Regor had seen him when he came through this point several minutes ahead of me.)

Above is an example of the trail markings we were following. There were glow sticks in addition to the ribbons, so finding our way was not too challenging, even in the dark.

The finish line was so great to see. It was close to the slowest 15K ever (granted, there was a bonus mile in there too), and was disappointing after expecting to do a Marathon, but I had no regrets.

PCTR still gave me credit for finishing the 15K, and I got a great shirt, a glow in the dark water bottle, and a medal.

I was amazed at how many runners came out for this night run (over 200 finishers in the two Night Sweats distances) - it really is a chance to do something pretty unique and challenging. PCTR makes this a really fun and well organized event - a HUGE thanks to them for adding this option, and a SUPER HUGE thanks to all the volunteers that hung out all night for us runners!

That's it - move along…

PS: You can see more of my pictures here.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Demons of Dust. And rocks - lots of rocks.

For the fifth year in a row, Mrs Notthat and I set up a trip to the Greater Pagosa Springs Area that matched up with a trail race put on by GECKO. As with last year, we chose the Demons of Dust event that runs alongside their Devil Mountain 50M/50K event. The course was significantly different than last year though, and once we arrived in Colorado, we found out that it had changed again.

The one thing that was reasonably obvious was that this course was going to have significantly more climbing than last year. Like about three times more climbing, up something called Chris Mountain.

Here is a simplified course map of sorts.

Double-click to see this bigger.
One thing about this course that I was happy to see, was that all three distances (Half, 10K, and 5K) started at the same time on the same trail. This meant that, if things were going horrifically, I would have two chances to drop down to a shorter distance.

I had two reasons to find relief in that:

  • I had no idea how I would do running at 8,000 feet of altitude, especially after a tough race the previous weekend.
  • I would have my great-nephew Blailand with me, running his second Half Marathon, and having a safety plan was a good idea. (But mostly it was the first thing.)

The race started and we were off! Team Lucas had two of us running the Half and four others running the 5K, including great-nephew Landon running his first 5K! (Another bonus runner was grandkid Riley, who had come along on our trip in large part to dodge the smokey wildfires that were really compromising his breathing back in California.)

We started on a fairly flat single-track trail. While it did create a bit of a conga line, it was actually pretty easy to go around slower runners if you wanted to.

Sadly, Landon managed to "become one with the trail" pretty early on. The trail was reasonably smooth at this point, but it did have occasional rocks that you had to be on the lookout for. Landon was able to continue on though (and I believe had a couple more occasions where he became one with the trail).

After a little bit, Blailand and I passed Mrs Notthat (who was still nursing an injury) and Grandkid Riley.

About half way around the 5K loop, the trail changed its tune and became very rocky. This was a sign of things to come.

Notthat becoming one with the trail.
Look at that picture. See any rocks? No. I have no idea what I tripped on, but I did it and managed to skin an elbow and get my shirt dirty. (And get a little bit of a rest.) Blailand was the only one around to see this, thankfully. (It only took him about a mile to stop laughing about it.)

"Which way do I go?"
Most of the turns had a volunteer to show us which way to go. (He used both arms since he could tell I was a bit dim.)

"Which way do I go?"
After about three fairly flat miles, we hit the turn where we left the 5K runners and headed out to Chris Mountain.

This was the first aid station, about mile 3.2 or so. We would see them again MUCH later.

At about mile 4, we hit the 10K turnaround. This was also where we left the smooth dirt road and started the serious trail up Chris Mountain. I asked Blailand how he was doing, and he said fine, so we decided to go for it and get the Half done!

The trail up the mountain started pretty nicely. I love running through this kind of foliage when I know there's no chance of any of it being poison oak.

It wasn't long before the trail started climbing though, and its true rocky nature became apparent. We would get to come back down this trail later, and I had hoped to make some good time on it, but my downhill technical running skills are pretty horrific, so this was not a happy thing.

The eventual Half winner flying down that rocky trail.

After a bit, we made it to the unmanned second aid station, about mile 5.2. This meant the first climb was over, which was a happy thing. At this point we went on a four mile loop that took us a bit back downhill before bringing us back up to this aid station.

The trail on that loop was pretty nice, although the climb back up to that aid station was rocky and seemed to take forever.

But we did it, and made it back to the aid station, now at about mile 9.1.

(A mildly interesting note: Shortly after we started back down from here, we met another runner coming up to this point. After she filled up at this aid station and started around the loop, she came across a large bear. The bear stood up and she stopped. The bear wandered off, but that was hardly comforting. Fortunately, she was able to call her husband, who happened to be at the start/finish area, and an ATV was dispatched to come get her. I mentioned this to my sister Bonnie, who has been all over these hills, and she wasn't surprised at all - she's seen a number of bears in this area. All of this made me wish I had been keeping a sharper eye out just for the chance to catch a glimpse of a real live bear in the wild!)

Blailand and I tried to go as fast as possible on this downhill, but I was already gun-shy after tripping once, so I was very conservative, and managed to stay on my (slow moving) feet!

We eventually made it back to the 10K turnaround. After that rocky trail, it was nice to get a bit of fairly smooth fire road.

This was the fourth aid station, about mile 11. We made a right and left the road for some more trails (the "10K" loop). This section was pretty nice with minimal climbing and minimal rocks. But it still seemed to take forever.

The trail out on the loop was a relatively nice ATV trail. I had noticed this bit of tape and the markers, but it had completely escaped me that we should turn there, and I kept on going on the ATV trail. Until I heard Blailand call out and, very politely, point out that I was a moron and had missed the turn. (He was of course right, and if he hadn't been paying attention we could have added at least a bonus mile or so.)

That turn led to more of the same kind of trail we had started on, and was really great. The only troubling bit was that my GPS was telling me that we were significantly past the point where we should have been finished. I started to get nervous, even though there were others ahead of and behind us, until Blailand heard the finish line music.

Blailand stormed the finish line with gusto!

Picture my brother took of Blailand coming in - she's ready to tackle him if he doesn't stop soon!
Me coming in. Nobody needed to worry about trying to tackle me. I was DONE!
Getting our medals. Note all the trail I had been carrying around on my back.

The only sad thing about this race was that several conflicts greatly affected the number of people Team Lucas was able to enter. It was great to get this many though, and we are already scheming to make it a lot more next year.

As always, the event was a blast. GECKO puts on a number of great events in the area, and we've always enjoyed them immensely.

A funny thing was that I was asked if I would answer a few questions for a newspaper article the GECKO people were putting together about the race. The result was this (you can double-click the pictures to maybe make them legible):

Wow. This was a bit stunning! I'd say it was humbling, but, well, my rapidly exploding ego won't let that happen.

I do like that Blailand got his name in his hometown newspaper for running up and down Chris Mountain - something none of his middle school classmates have ever done (or likely thought possible). I'm hoping he's had to explain that more than once, and maybe some of the girls are looking at him a bit differently.

A HUGE thanks to the people at GECKO, especially Kirsten, for all you did to make this so cool! We can't wait to get back here next year (we are currently thinking of the Turkey Track Trail race in June in the hopes it will have fewer scheduling conflicts).

Team Lucas will again be out in force! (And I promise not to bleed all over the trail again. Probably.)

That's it - move along.

PS: Here is a link to some more pictures I took at the race.