Sunday, June 10, 2018

Loopiness has its place

There are several events that take advantage of the roughly one mile loop around the Crissy Field Marsh, creating timed events for runners to test their endurance with little risk of getting lost or being far from aid. I like timed events and the views of that area seemed like they would be perfect for breaking up the monotony of endlessly running around that loop, but I had never managed to make it to any of these events.

So I was happy that it worked out for me to attend the Pacific Coast Trail Runs San Francisco One Day event, even if only for their shorter six hour duration. I knew a fair number of people running the race and knew it would be a blast, no matter how badly it went for me.

Simplified and wildly not to scale course map.
There are a number of challenges to this simple course - the mix of pavement and gravel, some very sharp turns, and some potentially bad weather (being right on the bay by the Golden Gate Bridge can result in very cold strong winds). And fog - always with the fog.

One other big challenge is that this area is heavily infested with tourists - the views of the bridge and Alcatraz are pretty stunning, and if it's a nice day, the beaches are a blast. The RD managed to schedule amazing weather for this race, which meant the tourists (and many locals) were out in force. Dodging selfie takers, many with bikes left scattered all over the place, made this a bit of an obstacle course, although it did help break up the monotony, and I'll take selfie congestion over bad weather any day.

The event started at 6 PM on Friday and went to 6 PM on Saturday. I think the Friday evening start was a new thing, but I'm not sure. It certainly added to the challenge for those in the 24 hour event since they either had to try to nap during the day or else start the race and immediately head into sleep deprivation issues.

For the shorter time runners, there was a bit of flexibility for when to start. Basically, a new race could start every 6 hours (6 PM, midnight, 6 AM, and noon). I took advantage of the noon start on Saturday, which meant I could sleep in a bit and would be on the trail as the 24 hour runners were wrapping up their races, meaning I had a chance to look fast by comparison. (I didn't.)

Apparently I'm now the "Crazy Cat Guy" - the remarkable thing was that she was able to get the cats to sit still long enough to make those portraits!
The start/finish area looked a bit like a homeless encampment - there were tents, chairs, coolers and a wide variety of other things randomly strewn about. Since I was only there for six hours, I had little need for much space - just somewhere to sit my bag with my bottles. The Amazing Karen was having none of that, and made me a really fun sign - I'm now officially the "Crazy Cat Guy" (which I was asked about by one of the other runners).

All Day Ken's ironing board aid station. It really helps to have a high "table" like that! And it's made him famous in Sweden!

 RD Greg: "If you see any sleepwalking 24 hour runners, don't try to wake them by yelling SNAKE! Unless you are recording video at the time."
I think there were seven of us that started our six hour event an noon. RD Greg explained how the looping system worked - we had to run our first five laps in the clockwise direction, and after that, we could change direction any time we crossed the start/finish timing mat by immediately recrossing it at the end of a loop.

Being able to change directions like this is pretty novel, and I think a great idea. What it meant was that you ended up seeing runners coming at you as well as going in the same direction, which made for a lot more interaction than normal at these sorts of events.

Ed "The Jester" was there doing his amazingly consistent pacing around that loop - it's always a blast too see him at these events.
Pen upstaging the Golden Gate Bridge with her awesomeness, on her way to second place in the 24 hour!
Getting serenaded while looking out at Alcatraz.
The midpoint timing mat and one of our biggest cheerleaders!
It's not really possible to cut the course (you could cut a bit off, but it would be very obvious you were doing it), but it is pretty easy to falsely trigger the start/finish timing mat, potentially giving you credit for a lap you didn't actually do. With the ability to change directions, you had to try to remember which direction you were going if you stopped to rest, use the toilet, or eat at the buffet. Having a midpoint timing mat took a lot of the guesswork out of the process since it served as a "second opinion" on how many laps you did, and was not subject to the false triggers of the other mat.

Also, I'm not sure, but I think if you crossed this mat and had time expire before you crossed the finish mat, you would get credit for half a lap. (After my last lap, I was a sure I couldn't complete another lap in the remaining time, but I could have gotten to the halfway point. Granted, then I would have had to come back without credit for the return. But maybe I could have talked some tourist into giving me a ride on their bike.)

Yes, there were a few puddles you could splash in, but you had to wait your turn.
This is Chikara. He ended up with nearly 130 miles in the 24 hour event. His speed after 23 hours was still way faster than my speed with fresh legs.
Someone was pretty happy with her 100K buckle!
A nice thing about these timed events is that you really only have to complete one lap to be considered a finisher. This means runners can set their own goals, which don't necessarily have to be all that related to the time. Alina had her sights set on reaching the 100K distance, and it was so cool that she made it with hours to spare (which made her more than a bit thrilled!).

Loren looked like he could keep on going for another day.
Loren had as his goal to hit 100 miles in less than 24 hours for the first time. He really pushed himself as was able to get it done with enough time left over that he could make several cool-down laps. (Those laps pushed him to fourth place overall!)

"Which way do I go?"
A funny bit - on one of my laps, as soon as I hit the bit that goes along the road, I heard "Pick it up NotThatLucas" over a loudspeaker. I worked out that it came from a passing Park Police vehicle. Tourists stared at me and nervously gave me lots of room to go past them. Ace was on duty that day and was able to spend a bit of time encouraging us while answering tourist questions ("That can't be the Golden Gate Bridge - it's so red!").

Picture Ace took of me. Indeed, the Golden Gate Bridge is not gold.

Two pictures of me in a row - sorry for that. Once I drained the bottles I brought, I switched over to rocket fuel.

Shrina and Ed handing out at the food tent.

The food that was available was really great (regardless of what that chicken's expression might make you think). Shrina and Karen made sure nobody went hungry or thirsty.

The start/finish arch.
I may be the "Crazy Cat Guy," but I'm not wearing a chicken on my head! (Although I also didn't get nearly 83 miles out here either.)
Soon The Jester is going to need a bigger chair to hold all his race buckles!
The yellow wrist band made it easier to figure out which runners were doing which times out there - a nice touch!
I ended up with 21 laps and a tiny bit over 22 miles, which was the furthest I had run since way back in August of 2016. This was pretty encouraging, especially since I came out of it with only normal soreness. It was extremely sunny and warm, which made the afternoon breeze actually fairly welcome. (And the sunburn unexpectedly fierce.)

This is from my Garmin. The little handle on the right is not part of the course though.

That handle shows my two trips to the bathroom. (I like how it looks like I had trouble finding the toilet, or escaping it.)

The course is reasonably flat.

But if you work at it a bit, you can make that "reasonably flat" look much more challenging. (This shows the one time I decided to try the counter-clockwise direction. I was surprised at how many people in the race that I almost never saw just because they were going the same direction as me.) Clockwise worked better for me since I was able to hug the "inside lane" and it seemed a bit easier for tourist management.

The race was a blast! It was fun seeing so many friends hit their goals and other friends pushing their friends to hit those goals.

Even those wearing chicken hats.

That's it - move along…

PS: Here's a link to more of my pictures from the day.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

13.1 under 3 at 200 = 300!

Trail running is not really about math, but you don't have to look hard to find that it's reasonably infested with math. Especially if you toss in a few milestones.

My Half Marathon at Brazen's Western Pacific trail race had the milestones that brought on some math.

First, the race.

I've run and written about this Half a number of times (here's my 2017 report), so I'm not going to get heavy on the details. It's flat, wanders around some small lakes before a long out-and-back, then wanders around those small lakes again.

Two weeks earlier I had a non-inspiring 4:27 finish at the creek- and hill-filled Diablo Half Marathon, so I had no reason to expect this Half to be very inspiring either. Last year I ran it in 2:42, and for this year, I decided on a wildly optimistic "A" goal of breaking three hours, with sub-3:30 as a much more realistic "B" goal.

But I had a super power for this race - for the first time in quite a while, I was facing off against my Arch Nemesis.

I asked her to make a mean face. She failed. She's just too nice.
Yram (not her real name) was pretty pumped up before the race. She was sure I was vulnerable and that she would whip me. I was actually pretty sure she would too - the longest run I had done before this was a 10K at Hellyer a month ago (there was a LOT of walking at that Diablo Half). That 10K had left me as a quavering puddle. And it was not a fast 10K. I figured at best I would be able to run 8 or 9 miles, and then have to walk the rest.

My Arch Nemesis would not be walking.

I loved all the kids handing out water!
I quickly lost sight of her after the start, and by the first aid station, about mile 1.8, I had no idea how far ahead she was. I was still moving fine though, so I just kept up my slow and steady pace.

"Which way do I go?"
Once we finished with the lakes, we had a long, fairly straight stretch - the out-and-back bit. I would certainly see her then, and I knew I couldn't be that far behind - I was moving well (for me).

There she is!
By the second aid station (about mile 3.3), I had her in my sights. This was the 10K turnaround - unlike at Diablo, I was not tempted to drop down to the 10K; I had an Arch Nemesis to track down!

Caught her! Well, maybe…
At about mile four, I came up beside her. I thought I had her! The right thing to do would have been to put on a bit of a sprint and open up a gap on her. I told my legs this was going to happen. My legs told me I was crazy. And while I was arguing with my legs, Yram decided to open up a gap on me. Before I knew it, she was out of sight again. Her turbo boost was really impressive!

The third aid station, about mile 4.6. And I think one of those two people way ahead of me is Yram. At least, that's what I told myself.
Catching up to her again. 
The trail has a short paved bit that dodges over to the road to cross a bridge before coming back to the creek. My Arch Nemesis was right there. I was hoping that her sprint to open up a gap on me had tired her out, but I wanted to make sure and pass her this time. So I managed a small burst of "speed" and "whipped" past her.

I'm not that far ahead of her, but for the first time in this race, I AM AHEAD OF HER!
We were at about mile six by now, and I knew that my legs could fall apart at any moment. But they felt good for now, so there was hope that if I could keep up this pace, I could continue to open this gap.

Picture of me by Hcaep (not her real name) just before the next aid station. I think that's Yram back there a bit.
The fourth aid station, about mile 6.7, and our turnaround point!
I was anxious to turnaround and see how far she was behind me.

"Not far at all" was the answer. My passing her had not broken her spirit, and I knew that I was now heading into territory I had not gone into for a long time (almost a year) - every mile I was still running was a new best for me for the last 11 months. And having to take walk breaks could start happening at any time.

The fifth aid station, about mile 9.1, was captained by Refinnej (not her real name). I asked her to tell Yram that her shoe was untied when she came through. It turned out that she has a reasonably devious mind - when Yram showed up and asked how far ahead I was, Refinnej said "we haven't seen him yet." What an excellent mind game!

In any case, I was feeling pretty confident now since I was still feeling OK, and feeling like running the whole Half was actually a real possibility! I had slowed a bit, and my calves were starting to feel like they wanted to cramp at the first excuse they found, but the flat, straight course gave them no excuses.

The sixth aid station, about mile 10.3. Less than a 5K to go!
"Which way do I go?" "Back to the lakes for you!"
I could almost smell the It's-Its.

The last aid station, about mile 11.7. I could hear Mr. Brazen announcing finishers now! 
The finish! Finally!
And I did it! I managed to run the whole course and finish just barely under three hours! And more importantly, beat my Arch Nemesis! (She showed up shortly after me.)

Now for some math.

The first fun thing was that this was Brazen's 200th race! They started in 2009 and have built up a fine stable of races and a fiercely devoted following.

The second fun thing was that this was my 300th race!

I found two notable things based on the number 300 - a car by Chrysler and a movie. I'm pretty sure they are not actually related.
I ran (hah - actually walked) my first race in 2009. Like most people after their first race, I was pretty sure that was it for me.

Then I learned about trail races.

Among those 300 races are a 1 mile and a 1.5 mile race, but the rest are at least 5Ks. This is also including my DNFs (9), which some purists might argue shouldn't count, but I'm hardly pure.

  • Average race distance: 10.9 miles.
  • Average time per race: 2:54
  • Average elevation per race: 1340 feet (that really surprised me)
  • Average number of races per year: 35
  • Average entry fee cost per race: $50 (considering a number of races were free after volunteering and DSE races cost only $5, that number seems really high)
  • Races volunteered at (not counted in the 300): 47
  • Races crewed/cheered (not counted in the 300): 17
  • Total number of races I've been involved with in some way: 364 (almost an average of 43 per year!)
These numbers astound me. They also show that maybe this hobby has gotten a bit out of control. 


It's still under control.

Mostly. Kind of.

That's it - move along…

PS: Here's a link to more pictures I took at the race.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

That was a long time between Half Marathons!

Back in May of 2017, I ran the Coastal Horseshoe Lake Half Marathon.

There really is a horseshoe-shaped lake there!
It was my third consecutive weekend running a Half, and it turned out to be my last Half for almost a year. My dodgy knee was starting to complain so I started doing shorter distances.

Then it was time to volunteer at Western States. My knee was feeling much better by then, so I was no longer wearing my brace. (You should be hearing that kind of music now that precedes a bad thing happening.)

After the Last Chance aid station closed, I headed down to the least technical bit of the course - the track that the runners use to get to the finish line. I knew a ton of people in the race, so I spent a lot of time taking pictures of them as they came in the gate and ran the track to the finish. On my second to last runner, I ran on that grass bit and managed to step in a small hole that tweaked my nearly healed knee in a way that caused more pain than that knee has ever known. It was a total shock - just a very freak accident.

I ended up spending the next three months hobbling along doing a bare minimum of races (we were streaking at Brazen, and even their 5Ks can often be really challenging). I started working in some 10Ks in the fall and winter, and finally decided in late January that I could try to do another Half.

The Brazen Coyote Hills Half turned out to be really special. It was Mrs Notthat's 100th lifetime Half. (She had been sitting on 99 for several years!) At the race, she was significantly ahead of me, and I was really dragging (my fitness was shockingly lacking). The course is two laps of a 10Kish course, and I decided to drop at the end of the first lap since I really wanted to be there when she came in (Not a Canadian had warned me that she had something up her sleeve), and there was no way I was going to finish within an hour of her.

Note the scratches on her clip-ons. It's not that easy to do that while wearing them. 
Then everything changed. Mrs Notthat took a nasty fall - other runners coming back at me on the out-and-back bit of the course were warning me that it was not good. The fact that I didn't see her going past me on that bit of trail confirmed that things were not great. She turned out to be at the aid station getting bandaged up. "It's only a flesh wound" was what I imagined her saying. She was seriously hobbled, but still determined to get the Half done. The problem was that she was now going to be pushing cutoffs if she wasn't able to move reasonably well.

So now my Half was back on - I was going to stick with her and keep her moving well enough to get past the cutoffs and get this done (or make her stop if she was really struggling). We started out pretty slow as she worked out how bad things were, but started to pick it up a bit. Now I was back to worrying whether I could keep up with her, but was determined to stick it out.

Not a Canadian being an amazing trail angel!

Near the end of that first lap, we were fine on the first cutoff. And Not a Canadian was waiting there. We explained what was going on and she volunteered to pace her around that second lap (even though she had already run a fast 10K). I vowed to follow along, but soon realized I had no hope of keeping up with the two of them. So I cut my second lap short and headed back so I could catch her finish.

This was truly an amazing accomplishment given the pain she was in. Sadly, she is still paying for that effort a bit, with Achilles pain that is being very slow to heal.
Enough about her - back to me. This DNF convinced me that I needed to up my training before I took on another Half. The good news was that my knee did not rebel too strongly at the nine or so miles I did get in.

All of which made me decide to target the Brazen Diablo Challenge Half Marathon. If you use elevation gain to judge whether one Half is harder than another, this Half comes in at Brazen's seventh hardest - just barely beating out Lagoon Valley and Wildcat. But something about it always makes it harder than it should be.

Double-click to see this simplified course map a bit bigger.
The fun thing about this Half is that there are so many creek crossings, and this year, most of the creeks had significant water in them. We had significant sun too, although it wasn't that hot (low to mid 70s). All I wanted to do was to finish, and to do that, I had one cutoff I had to make. Three hours to get to mile 7.9 seems absurdly generous, but so many of those miles are uphill. And it goes without saying, my fitness was still not suitable for a race like this.

So I gave myself a couple of outs - if things were going badly, I could turn around at the 5K or 10K turnarounds.

Brave Ymmot (not his real name) keeping that boulder from crushing us runners.
The race started fine, and I kept my speed well under control (like I had any other options).

The first aid station, about mile 1.1, headed up by my arch-nemesis. She would later kick herself for not running this Half since she would have given me a massive beatdown.

When I arrived at the 5K turnaround, I was feeling fine, so I kept pushing on to the 10K turnaround.

Shortly after the 5K turnaround, we jump off the wide more or less flat trail onto this single-track, and our first of two small warm up climbs. These would largely determine whether I was going to finish this Half or not.

The second aid station, about mile 2.8, before starting the second warm up climb.
That first small climb (about 400 feet) was tougher than I would have liked. The second small climb (also about 400 feet) was also tough. Things were looking grim for my Half.

After that second climb, you get a nice downhill that's just long enough for you to forget the nasty things your brain was telling you back when you were slogging up that hill. The 10K turnaround was coming up quickly.

Sometimes trails make excellent creeks.
The 10K turnaround - time to decide.
By the time I made it to the 10K turnaround, I had largely forgotten how those small climbs had taxed me. So I pushed on. From here on, there were no easy outs until you finished the real climb, and if you can manage that, there is no good reason not to finish (assuming you make the cutoff).

This was about mile four, and it had taken me 75 minutes to get there. I now had to go four more miles in 105 minutes. But that four miles had about 1400 feet of climbing. The climb did have a few small breaks (and LOTS of false summits), but you would find yourself swearing every time you gave back some elevation, knowing you were going to have to make up for it shortly after.

An example of a creek crossing, and the base of the big climb (if you look at the simple course map above, this is where that big loop meets the stick).
I got a kick out of the two runners taking a selfie.
This trail is challenging - it's completely exposed so, even though it wasn't really hot, the sun took its toll on you. But the clear skies and climb rewarded you with astonishing views. (Not enough of a reward, but it helped.)

Not a mirage - that really is the third aid station, at the top of a hill, naturally.
I had hoped to do this stretch without having to pause, and I did pretty good, but did end up pausing a couple of times to catch my breath (and convince myself that this wasn't really the stupidest idea I've ever had). When I finally spotted that third aid station (the one with the cutoff), I was thrilled. Near death, but thrilled.

"Would you like a complimentary cup of water sir?" I've never been so happy to see The Endorphin Dude.
It ended up taking me about 85 minutes to cover that four miles, so I was well within the cutoff (and I wasn't last either!). I was happy that I would be able to take a few minutes here to gather myself.

Me gathering myself. Picture by The Endorphin Dude. Misery by Diablo. This is the classic pose of someone who is about to "reset their stomach." Fortunately, I was having no stomach issues at all - I was just dang tired.
"You want ANOTHER complimentary water?" Miss Chris Bliss was way more angelic than those horns lead on.
Total surprise seeing so many rock stars here, including Ecarg, Aynwat, and Mas (not their real names). They were getting ready to sweep the second half of the 50K course.
"See daddy? See those runners way up there?" (He was actually pointing at a helicopter that had been circling me, assuming I would keel over at any moment, which was a fair bet.)
I left the aid station about 12 minutes before the cutoff, and of course, started going uphill. There isn't a lot of climbing left though, but by now these small hills seemed daunting.

I was so thrilled to get to turn left here. The 50K runners at this point are now facing the hardest part of their race.
Once I hit the long downhill, I was happy that I was able to run, even if it was very slow.

It wasn't really all single-track like this, but it was all very runnable downhill for about  two miles.
After about a mile though, I started having a sharp pain in my inner thigh, no doubt caused by me compensating for the knee. So I started walking for a bit, and the pain went away. Once I was closer to the bottom of the climb, I tried running again and all went fine. Well, other than me being totally exhausted.

This is at the end of that big loop. The Search and Rescue volunteer was recording bib numbers to help keep track of us runners. I was encouraged that he didn't immediately radio for a helicopter to extract me.
From this point, I'm heading back mostly on trails that I came out on - net downhill but some rolling and a LOT of creek crossings.

50K runner Nhoj getting his picture taken by Yaj (not their real names) who had finished his Half a couple of hours earlier.
Yaj had finished his race a bit over two hours earlier and was now out taking pictures of us mortals. He got this shot of me that does an amazing job of making me look like a real runner!

"Don't fall don't fall don't fall…" Picture by Yaj.

And then finally, the finish arch. It was all I could do to avoid giving it a big sweaty hug.

The thing on the right was on the bottom-back of my shirt. Not a Canadian brought it back from Greece since she knew I would make it useful (as long as you have a loose enough definition of "useful").
And then I was done. I had survived the Half. My muscles were amazingly sore, but my knee held up fine. This was my seventh finish of this Half course (there are two Brazen races a year that use it), and a bit more that 20 minutes longer than any of them at 4:27. I was number 272 out of 286 finishers. (I was the only one of six in my age group to not finish in under three hours  - old trail runners are tough and fast!)

It was awesome to get this finish. I'm not sure it was wise, but a week later, I'm feeling recovered and happy to have that Half monkey off my back. Getting farther than the Half distance might be a bit out still, but I'm more confident that that's just a training issue, which can be fixed.

It might not be easy though.

That's it - move along…

PS: You can see more of my pictures here.