Saturday, June 10, 2017

Streaking for dummies

The guy on the right has pretty good form.
Note: For you old people who hear the word "streak" and immediately think of that 70s fad that, well, got some people running in a minimalist fashion (and inspired a song called "The Streak" by Ray Stevens), you are about to be disappointed. Sorry.

I listened to Ultrarunning Podcast's interview of Wally Hesseltine this week and it got me to thinking about running streaks. Wally is a Bay Area legend - on a whim of sorts he decided in the early 80s to run a Marathon, and has run at least one race every month since, with over 500 finishes, 200 of which were of an ultra distance. He came on to my radar last year at Western States, where he missed the 30 hour cutoff by a bit under two minutes. At the age of 71.

And then I stumbled on an article in Newsweek about Jon Sutherland, who is credited with the longest known current streak of running at least a mile a day - for 17,546 days (since May of 1969). That's astonishing.

We have many local runners who have done or are doing long streaks as well (I think Catra Corbett is up to something amazing, especially considering almost none of her miles are flat and only running a mile would be a day off for her).

All of this got me to thinking what sort of streak I might have going on. (Spoiler alert - not much.) My records aren't nearly as detailed as Wally's - I don't track what passes for workouts or training, for example - but they provide the basic information I needed for this.

Consecutive months streak

From the standpoint of longest streak of at least one race run a month, my longest streak was 56 months (Sept 2010 to April 2015). The streak was broken in May of 2015 for reasons I can't figure out. I don't think I was injured, but maybe. (March seems to be the leanest month for races for me.)

From the standpoint of longest streak of at least one race run, volunteered, or crewed a month, that streak is at 90 months and counting. In that 90 months (since my first Brazen race in January of 2010), there have been three months that I didn't actually run a race, which surprises me since I figured injuries would have knocked me out more than that.

Consecutive weekends streak

On Feb 4, I ran the 10K at the Inside Trail Runs Fort Ord race, and that started a streak of running a race for 18 weeks in a row. To be clear, only three of those were Half Marathon distance - many were 10K and 5K, with one weird 1.5M race thrown in when I really should have known better. So, as cool as that streak sounds, it wasn't really all that impressive - it mostly meant I had too much free time on the weekends and nothing better to do with the bit over $1000 spent on race registrations. (I did win outright two of those races, although I was the only runner in that distance for both of those, so, well, a win is a win, I guess.) In any case, I'm not doing anything race-wise this weekend, so that will break the consecutive weekend race streak.

Close the rings streak

I have an Apple Watch, and probably the thing that comes closest to justifying it are the activity rings. (For those of you not familiar with the rings thing, I put some details in the PS at the end of this post.) For the month of February, work had a "Close the Rings" challenge where the goal was to close all three rings every day.

Starting on Jan 23, I had a streak of closing all three rings every day up to June 7 - 135 days of at least walking/running a mile or more. And I missed it on June 7 because the universe was against me (well, and I mostly forgot about it):

  • I spent the day with the grandkids, including making a play structure for the grandson's cat. This kept me busy, but did nothing for my exercise ring.
  • I started watching the Warriors finals game three. All games up to this point had been pretty much decided by the third quarter, so naturally, this game was tense all the way to the end. At 8:30, I finally realized my streak was in danger, so I decided to watch the end while walking on the treadmill (which has a TV in front of it).
  • It turned out that that TV does not, for reasons that only karma understands, receive the station that was broadcasting the game. 
  • I decided to suck it up and listen to the game on my little old Walkman-like radio thing. I turned it on, found the station, and heard about seven seconds of the broadcast before its battery died.

And that was it - the game was getting more and more tense, it was getting later and later (if I do any kind of exercise too close to bedtime, which is 9 PM for me, I have a really hard time sleeping), and my knee and IT band issues were not thrilled, so I called it a streak, went back to the bedroom, and finished watching the game.

I was pretty sad about that streak getting broken, but it actually has been a bit of a relief - I really need to give my issues time off, and that streak thing was keeping that from happening.

Brazen Racing streak

In 2010, Brazen Racing noticed that three runners had run all 15 of their races that year. It hadn't occurred to anyone that something that bizarre would ever happen, but since it did, and since it would likely never happen again, Brazen surprised those runners with an amazing shadowbox containing all that year's medals.

In 2011, those three plus fifteen more ran all the races. At that point, Brazen knew this was a real thing and decided to run with it, giving the streakers their own numbers, a shirt, the shadow box, and a red carpet ceremony.

It's now a yearly tradition for people to try to streak all the races - there are now 173 streakers, many of which have struck multiple years - even though it's significantly harder to do now that there are 27 Brazen races during the year. Making it through that gauntlet of races and not having some sort of conflict come up is a pretty astonishing feat.

For reasons unclear to me, Mrs Notthat decided that this would be our year to take a shot at streaking. We've made it through 11 races so far, and the 12th, Double Dipsea, will be claimed not by running but by volunteering (which is a perfectly acceptable way to claim a race - all the rest of our races, barring injury, will be claimed by running though).

So that streak is still going along. But the challenge of not missing a race in the next seven months is going to be huge.

Playoff basketball streak

And then last night, the Warriors, who had won 15 playoff games in a row, had that streak snapped.

Streaks are a weird thing - they can be really impressive, but they can also ramp up the stress and cause you to do things you likely wouldn't normally do. They can also be a lot of fun and maybe even sometimes worth the trouble.

And now I've got to deal with my self-inflicted earworm - "Oh yes they call him the streak…"

That's it - move along…

PS: Here are the ring details.

There are three rings:

  • Standing: The idea is for the watch to think you're standing for at least a minute once an hour - the ring closes once you've done that for 12 hours. This is the easiest ring to close, especially once you realize that the watch really doesn't know whether you're standing our not - it just checks to see if the watch's orientation is consistent with hanging at your side. This means you can be standing at one of those tall desks, working away on your computer, only to have your watch suggest you stand up for a bit. This also means you can be driving down the freeway when your watch tells you to stand, and all you really have to do is dangle your arm by your side for a minute to feel the congratulatory tap of a stand well done.
  • Move: Using mysterious methods, the watch tracks how many calories you burn by way of, I don't know, breathing? It's weird to be sitting in the recliner, mainlining chocolate chip cookies while watching TV, only to have your watch congratulate you on reaching your calorie burning goal. The watch does use your heart rate to help with this, so doing mildly strenuous yard work or washing the cars will burn the calories faster, so it's not totally bogus. But if you didn't get out of bed all day, you would still burn a bunch of calories. This is the only ring that you get to set the goal. My initial goal was really hard for me to reach - I generally hit it only two or three times a week. For the challenge at work, I had to set the goal to a much lower value (double my weight), which has made hitting it significantly easier.
  • Exercise: The idea is to do a workout of at least 30 minutes each day. A brisk lunch walk is fine for this - it's a little mysterious how it decides whether what you are doing is an exercise worth tracking or not (mowing the lawn does not count, but walking from the car to donut counter does). You can manually tell it that, contrary to all outward appearances, you are currently in the middle of a workout, and it will roll its digits and happily congratulate you. (I've only done this once, just to see how it would work. I think most people use this mode a lot, since many workouts would be hard for the watch to automatically detect.)

The Move and Exercise rings can be looped multiple times if you are doing something particularly strenuous (pretty much any race for me). You get "awards" for some random accomplishments.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Horseshoes are lucky, right?

The Coastal Horseshoe Lake trail race was special for several reasons:

  • I somehow managed to get us registered before it sold out. Several times we've decided to do this race only to find it's sold out. (One year I volunteered instead, which was its own kind of fun.)
  • It was going to be my third weekend in a row running a Half Marathon. I hadn't done anything that aggressive since February of 2014.
  • These trails are some of the best around. And since this was an out-and-back course, I'd get to see lots of friends - even the faster ones - during the race.

Horseshoe Lake is up on Skyline Road in the middle of nowhere (right Ynot, not your real name?) with no cell service.

It also had no heat.

I thought Canadians would do better in the cold.
It was surprisingly cold at the start, with a frostbitten breeze that was way out of place in California spring time.

But the cold was mostly temporary - once we started on the trails, we warmed up pretty fast. We started with a sprint  through a parking lot, allowing us to sort ourselves a bit by speed, then turned on to some fun single-track. It was a bit of a conga line for a while, but it went fine.

Conga lining up the switchbacks was kind of fun. 
The course is not flat, but the climbs are fairly modest. (There is 1800 feet of climbing for the out-and-back course.)

After a bit, we ran along the edge of the woods on a wider trail, and the conga lines were no more.

Wow - this trail was so much fun!
Ironically, many of these trails are notorious for being hot and exposed. Heat was not an issue today.

"Hi there Eiram! Not your real name!"
It wasn't long before I started seeing the faster runners already heading back. I get a huge kick out of this sort of thing.

"Hi there Drannyl! Not your real name!"
Our aid station was near the turnaround, which meant we got to see it twice. "Just go out a bit less than a mile and you'll see the turnaround." What was not said was "And you'll have to climb a hill to get there. Both ways."


Pick a color. Any color.
This was my first race where I had to grab a rubber band to prove I had gone all the way to the turnaround, which was pretty exciting! The surprise was getting to choose the color of rubber band that I wanted. I stood there trying to decide, then grabbed a purple and a blue one, felt bad for being greedy (there must have been a thousand rubber bands there - there was no chance of them running out), put the blue one back, started to leave, had second thoughts, paused, then rolled my eyes and forced myself to be happy with the purple one.


"Hi brave Nelle, not your real name!"
On my way back I started seeing the longer distance runners heading out for their second lap of the course.

"Hi Mrs Coastal, not your real name!"
Just before I ran into Mrs Coastal, I had seen a boy charging out on the trail that I didn't realize, until it was too late, was Coastal First Born. (He had a pacer, but I swear he was trying to drop her.) Mrs Coastal got this picture of me:

Photo by Mrs Coastal. Dorky look by me.
Mrs Notthat was wise and ran the 5M race, which interestingly used a completely different trail than the Half course. Mrs Coastal got this picture of Mrs Notthat gliding on some downhill:

Photo by Mrs Coastal. Happy smile by Mrs Notthat.
I was getting close to the finish and was happy about that. I went into this race knowing I wasn't going to be fast - I had a goal time of 3:30 or so. At the turnaround I was already up to 1:45, and since negative splits are not in my wheelhouse, it looked like I was going to be doing good to finish in under four hours.

Mrs Notthat and Not a Canadian came out a bit to see if I was still alive. That poor guy in the middle was just out for some peace and quiet. This was not a quiet time.
Once I was back to the lake, it dawned on me that I actually still had a chance at beating 3:30. What I hadn't realized was that the course was mostly uphill to the turnaround, which meant it was mostly downhill back to the finish, and I had been making reasonably good time (for me).

Not a Canadian: "Do NOT stop and play with these! Keep running!"
I started pushing a bit harder with that 3:30 goal in sight. Even the allure of toy dump trucks couldn't slow me down.

A funny thing about this race - there is an aid station about 50 feet from the finish. It's for the long distance people who turn around and head back out to do the course again. They made sure I didn't stop, tempting as it was.

The medal, shirt, bib, and anguished over rubber band.
And that's about it. I ended up at 3:30:59, so with some generous rounding, I can say I hit my 3:30 goal, which was a huge surprise given my time at the turnaround.

This course is a blast - if you are a faster runner and don't like conga lines, start nearer the front, or if you are like me, be sure to start nearer the back so you don't end up holding up the conga line. The fact that there even is a conga line means you're on single-track trails, which is always a great thing.

This felt a lot harder than a Half with 1800' of climbing should feel, but the variety of trails, views, and high fives on the out-and-back made it go by pretty quickly. A huge thanks to the volunteers and Coastal for putting on such a fun event - I'm so glad we finally got to run this thing!

That's it - move along…

PS: You can see more of my pictures here.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

"Training" for a Half!

That title is supposed to be a joke/pun of sorts - I think I read somewhere that the best jokes/puns are those that need to be explained.

The Brazen Racing Western Pacific event has a train for its mascot. Training is something I have been failing at recently, so running a race that involves a train (even if it's just the image of a train) charging down the trails made me reach a long ways for that title.

This was also a bit of a momentous race for me - it was going to be the first time since November of 2015 that I would be doing races of at least Half Marathon distance on consecutive weekends. I was a bit surprised by that statistic - it's not all that meaningful but I would have bet money that I had accomplished this at least once last year. (It was also going to be my 13th racing weekend in a row, so it's not like I've been spending all my time eating Pringles and watching Monkees reruns, although, there was a lot of that too.)

The course is not too challenging to follow - it's basically a lollipop with a bit of the stick exposed at the top of the candy, but the proper bit of the stick goes on forever. It's pretty much flat on wide gravel trails, with some bonus pavement in the middle. 

"How many of you think you could beat that "Little Engine that Could? Not That, put your hand down."
Note the blue sky and sunshine. This is a course that can really do you in with heat - it's mostly exposed, and that long out-and-back bit forces you to deal with the sun and wind relentlessly. But today was pretty cool, so overheating did not appear likely.

And we are off! Don't fall in the lake!
Of the four distances offered at this race (5K, 10K, Half Marathon, and the Full Marathon that's also an official Boston qualifier), the Half had the most runners. Because of the Full going on, it meant the Half runners had no real cutoff to worry about, which, combined with the flatness and many aid stations, makes this an attractive first Half.

"Hi Acire, not your real name!" I like how it looks like this is a prison aid station. 
A kind of fun thing about how the course is laid out is that we spend time running along a fence that separates us from the long out-and-back bit. I got to see a number of friends running the Full that were about three miles ahead of me.

"Which way do I go?" There were some turns, but they all had volunteers to make sure you headed the right way.
"Which way do I go?" 
The first and last part of the course is spent hanging around Quarry Lakes.

"Hey Nafets, not your real name, I can't believe I caught you!"
There was no early start option, as happens at most Brazen races, so I got to see some runners that I don't normally see.

This looks a lot more chaotic than it really was. We turned right here and started on the "stick."
The first aid station was at about mile 1.8. We would see this aid station later. In my case, much later.

"He Racso Rj, not your real name, which way do I go?"
At this point, we left the lake area and started on the long trail along Alameda Creek.

The "prison" aid station. Acire giving me the boot.
Our second aid station was at mile 3.3, and also served as the 10K turnaround.

Almost all of our climbing was due to going under these overpasses.

"Hi Eiram, not your real name!"
The third aid station was at about mile 4.6. As much as I whine about how exposed this bit of trail is, you'll note that there are also a lot of trees providing shade.

"Which way do I go?"
There is an odd stretch randomly in the middle of the long out-and-back where the trail is paved and includes a bit where you borrow this road's bridge to cross a creek.

The fourth aid station was at about mile 6.75. This aid station was great for two reasons: It was the Half turnaround and it had a porta-pottie (of which I took advantage). A third reason was that the lead Full runner just happened to pass through as I filled my bottle.

This was the end of the stick, so most of the rest of my race was retracing my steps back to that first aid station.

There were little lizards in those rocks that enjoyed making fun of us runners. Well, maybe just me.
The trail along the creek isn't my favorite - on the left are people's backyards - but the creek is pleasant to look at.

The little boy was a bit alarmed that his mother was cheering on the runners and offering high-fives. I think the smell of us was getting to him.
This is a popular trail with the normal people that live around here, and it was fun to see so many of them out walking their dogs.

The fifth aid station (was third) at about mile 9.1.

Racso, Htenaj, and Acire (not their real names) trying to get me to peel them a few grapes.
The sixth aid station (was the prison second) at about mile 10.3.

"Hey Racso Rj and Les, not your real names, I'm back! Which way do I go?"
This is where we turned left and headed back into the lake area. (Full runners kept going on a bonus out-and back.)

"Hi there Kasi, not your real name! That's a lot of cups!"
The seventh, and final, aid station (was the first) at about mile 11.7. The end of the stick and back to the lollipop bit.

If you look really hard, you can see the finish arch over there. It was also starting to warm up a bit.

"Which way do I, oh never mind - I think I'll just hang here at the party!"
At this point, I was about 200 yards from being done. I was really tired and so thrilled to be so close.

A fun thing - as I was slogging up the small hill to this chute, the winner of the women's Full blasted past me! So cool that I got to see her finish!

And that's about it. The race went pretty good for me - certainly better than I had any right to expect, with a sub-2:43 finish. I did end up with a weird blister (for me, anyway) on the back of my right heel, but beyond that, I was fine - just really tired.

This event requires a ton of volunteers, and they made it so fun. (Well, except for the whole grape peeling thing.) A huge THANKS to them and Brazen for putting on this event!

My second Half in two weeks went surprisingly well. Next weekend will push me even further as I go for my third Half in three weekends. And it will be a bit of a challenging course with actual hills.

I'm not sure what I was thinking.

That's it - move along…

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

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Razorback 2017 - How I learned to win a race!

I really like the Razorback Endurance Race. In an effort to do her best to create a race director's nightmare, but a runner's panacea, Tracy has grown this event into something for just about everyone.

It's primarily a timed race, with 24 hour, 12 hour, and 6 hour events. There is also a 100 mile event that can have up to a 36 hour cutoff. For the 6 hour race there were three start times you could choose from: early Saturday, late Saturday, and early Sunday.

Not enough options? You also got to choose your preferred course:
  • There's The Big Easy (that's a lie) which is a two mile paved loop with an extreme lack of hills. It's pretty flat. It's also almost completely without any trees for shade or windbreak - it's very exposed.
  • There's The Razorback Relentless, which is a scenic 4.8 mile trail course that is decidedly not paved or flat, with about 660 feet of climbing on each loop. This course has sporadic trees, cows, hills, cows, and plants that are determined to flay you alive. (There is no poison oak though, so instead of waiting for a few days to see if you happened to brush up on some poison oak, these plants let you know instantly if you brush up on them.)
One thing you can't do, is pick a course then change your mind. So choose wisely. (And if you do choose wisely, you just might find yourself a winner. But I'm getting ahead of myself.)

I ran this race a couple of years ago - at that time there were more distance options and I tried for a 100K (and ended up with a 50K) in what turned out to be a mudfest when a storm passed through. Last year was similar - a big storm put a damper on the race. (Rain doesn't affect the paved course much, but that trail course quickly turns to soup.) So this year, the race was pushed back by a month or so to reduce the chances of rain (and given how wet this winter has been, that was wise).

Last year I ran my second 50 miler at the Run-de-Vous race that just so happens to use that same Big Easy course. I knew that I could handle the flat and paved, but given a choice, I will almost always opt for the trails. And so I did at this year's race.

And I was the only 6 hour runner to do that.

There's a good reason not to choose the trail course for the short 6 hour event - it takes longer to get a lap done. For a lap to count, you have to complete it before the time expires. Each 2 mile loop might take you 30 minutes or so. If you finish a loop with 45 minutes left, it's safe to go out and get another lap done. For the trail course, I figured it would take me about 90 minutes to get a lap done. If I finished a lap with 45 minutes left, I'm pretty much done - there is no chance of me getting another lap done in time, which meant the trail course, if your timing was bad (mine was), would end up leaving you with a good chunk of useless time left.

OK - enough introduction. Now for the race.

Not only was I the only one to choose the 6 hour trail option, I was the only one to choose to start at 6 PM (with my finish being at midnight). I am not a night person, but races at night fascinate me. Plus I get to sleep in (the other options started at 6 AM). 6 PM was also the end of the 12 hour race, and I got to see a couple of fun finishes.

The first quarter mile or so of the trail course is on the paved loop trail, then we veered off on a gravel trail. By starting at 6 PM, I was going to get to do a lap in daylight, which was a good thing since it allowed me to get reacquainted with the course.

It takes a tough person to put a trail ribbon on one of these maiming plants!
It was so green with the wet winter, but the trails were almost completely dry. They were a bit chewed up in places (apparently the cows use the trails for dance practice when it rains), so you needed to be a bit careful where you stepped, but that just added to the charm.

I was surprised by areas like above, where the hillsides had slid onto the trail. This would have been nearly impassable back when it was muddy.

The trail is almost being overtaken by the vegetation. In the dark, it was challenging to see the trail in places.
Once you got to about halfway up the climb, you turned onto this fun single-track trail, often lined with those maiming plants.

I resisted calling 911 and getting helicoptered out, but the option was on the table. This actually hurt a fair amount, and happened when my hand brushed up against one of those plant things.
Happy cows? Or cows with an attitude?
There were cows. And the cows seemed to enjoy tormenting the runners. They would stare at you as you came up on them, blocking the trail, playing a game of chicken with you. In the end, they would always get out of your way, barely, and let you pass. But if you were at all uncomfortable around the cows, I suspect this course was pure misery.

I think in reality, there were only three or four places over my first two loops where the cows were this close. (Once the sun set, I never saw another cow.)

The closest thing to a creek crossing we had.
My first lap ended up taking 1:14. The climbing was harder than I remembered, but that was largely because I haven't done much training on hills this year. If I could keep up this pace, I should have been able to get in four laps pretty easily. But, this was in daylight on fresh legs, and I doubted I would be able to make as good time coming down that hill in the dark. Still, four laps became my realistic goal.

The setting sun started to make some interesting views.
I wasted little time starting my second lap, figuring I could at least get the climbing bit in before it got dark. The climb definitely felt harder this time though.

This is at the top of the climb on that second lap. 
It had been very overcast the whole time I had been there, but as the sun set, the clouds started breaking up, making for some really nice views.

About halfway down the climb of that second lap, I finally turned on my headlamp since seeing the trail was getting dicey. But the sky was almost completely clear. (Sadly, the moon wasn't scheduled to arrive until about 4 AM, so when the sun set, it got really dark.)

The festive start/finish area.
I finished that second lap in about 1:26 - it had taken me 2:40 to get two laps in, which meant I couldn't fool around much if I wanted to get four in before my time was up. So I headed out almost right away.

And almost right away, my wheels fell off. The lack of hill training really caught up to me on the third lap - I struggled on any kind of an uphill. I even resorted to something I rarely do during a race - I pulled out my headphones and started listening to a podcast. This made me a bit nervous since, who knew what was lurking along the trail (frogs - it turns out there were LOTS of frogs lurking), and it would be good to hear whatever was going to eat me.

That little "V" of light is from a runner that passed me a few minutes earlier.
Even once I hit the top of the climb, I was unable to get my legs to do much of anything useful. I was really surprised at how quickly my race turned south. I started doing math (bad idea) and realized that getting four laps in was going to be really challenging.

During my three laps, I ended up seeing four runners total, including Catra (above, on the right - you'll have to trust me a bit on that) as she headed out for yet another lap (she ended up doing 21 laps and winning the 100 mile trail  race - this after marking the course the day before).

That third lap ended up taking me 1:44. It had taken me 4:24 to go three laps - I had 1:36 to get a fourth lap in. But I was toast - I had a hard time believing that I could get another lap in faster than that third lap, and if my fourth lap took longer than 1:36, it wouldn't count. So I ended up saying "uncle" with about an hour and a half on the clock, which was sad.

This is where, being on the two-mile loop, I could have probably gotten two more laps in.

So this was a pretty underwhelming performance, although honestly, I was fine with it. I was able to get some hills on my legs, I got my longest distance of the year done (14.4 miles), and I had a lot of fun playing with the cows, snakes, frogs, and views the trails gave me.

And since I was the only 6 hour runner that chose the trail course, I ended up being the winner!

A couple of years ago Mrs Notthat and I, along with The Boy and his squeeze, headed back to Colorado to do a trail race. I ran the Half and The Boy ran the 10K. Weirdly, it turned out he was the only guy in the 10K, so he won it by default, and got a nice trophy for it. He wasn't very comfortable with any of that, but I told him to enjoy getting a win. And now, here I am in a similar boat. I got a win. But there needs to be a large asterisk next to it.

Ed "The Jester" will never need an asterisk next to his wins!
This was a blast, and I would still make the same choices. I would like to be better trained though. Tracy and her team of ridiculously perky volunteers made this a blast - the food options available were amazing, making it challenging to get out of the aid station to go get another lap done.

I'll be back next year, and may even try to talk Tracy into a 12 hour event that starts at 6 PM.

Make it relentlesser!

That's it - move along…

PS: You can see more of my pictures here.