Sunday, June 28, 2015

Quick Western States Thing

[I'll do a longer, picture-filled thing later about this weekend, but for now, I just wanted to get this out.]

The Western States weekend is a lot of fun - it's amazingly inspiring watching a huge variety of runners navigate a tough, 100.2 mile course under challenging conditions, all while battling their own personal battles with cramping muscles, ruined stomachs, and heat exhaustion.

And then the coolest thing I've ever seen at a trail race happened.

No woman aged 70 or over has ever finished the race. (And more than you would think possible have tried.) This year, 70-year-old Gunhild decided to take on the challenge. All through the night, we were given updates as to her progress. The race was having an abnormally high rate of DNFs, so it seemed likely that soon she would be added to the list.

But she wasn't.

She kept going.

She made it to Robie Point, 1.3 miles from the finish, with 17 minutes to go before the hard 30-hour cutoff. The spectators, mostly comprised of runners, their crew and pacers, and volunteers/groupies like me, all got nervous. 1.3 miles of mostly downhill pavement should be no problem in 17 minutes, but this was after going 98.9 miles in a bit over twenty-nine and a half hours. And the sun had returned to being ruthless.

Every time we saw some movement outside the gate we hoped it was her. A runner showed up and the place erupted, but it wasn't her. (For the record, a not-nearly 70-year-old John finished with 33 seconds to spare.)

The clock kept ticking down - now there was just a bit over a minute left.

And then she arrived, and the place REALLY erupted! She was moving well, but she still had to go about three-fourths the way around the high school track, and the clock was refusing to pause.

A large group of people ran across the football field to follow her progress. She hit the home stretch, where the clock was clearly visible, and picked up the pace a tiny bit - just enough to cross the finish with six seconds to spare.

There were many amazing stories this weekend - there always are at an event like this -  but Gunhild's finish is what will stick in my mind for a long time.

That's it - move along.

PS: I got so caught up in what was going on that I forgot to take any useful pictures. If you look under that finish arch, you'll see a couple of bright green specs. The one on the left is her. And you are right - she looks amazing!

PPS: This link should show you a short video of her finish.

PPPS: This is a link to an iRunFar interview of her after the race. A couple of wild bits:

  • She got off course at around mile 88 by following runners ahead of her, who turned out to not be in the race. This added distance and climbing and nearly derailed her race completely.
  • Rob Krar (among others), who won the race over 15 hours earlier, ran up to meet her and get that last bit done.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Drought or no drought - the creeks of Diablo were running!

The creeks were certainly running better than me!

The Brazen Diablo Challenge, a benefit for the Save Mount Diablo group, is also an excuse for Mr Brazen to seriously torture unsuspecting 50K runners. Due to some eagle nesting issues, the 50K course, which was already one of the toughest around, had to be wildly modified. Those modifications meant the runners would climb both Mt Diablo and the North Peak, which made this far more challenging than ever.

Proving that I'm not totally nuts, I chose to stick with the Half Marathon, which was not affected by any promiscuous birds.

Click to see a larger version.
The Half course isn't too complicated, but it is infested with creek crossings. I had never actually counted them before - if you had asked me before this race I would have said there were maybe 15, and that most would be dried up.

As it turns out, I'm not a good person to ask these sorts of things before a race - I was wrong on both accounts. There turned out to be 23 crossings (a lot of creeks are crossed twice) and they all had water. Not a lot of water in some cases, but enough that if you were determined to keep your feet dry, you were going to really have to work at it.

A picture of each crossing. It's possible I missed one towards the end as my brain was approaching toast.

Shortly after we started, Nahtanoj (not his real name), with Racso Jr (not his real name) providing security, was taking pictures.

Picture by Nahtanoj. I've gone maybe 200 feet and I'm getting ready to take my fifth picture. 

My goal was to start slow. This course has two small climbs followed by a big one that takes forever. My hope was to save something for the long, glorious downhill that follows the big climb.

I'm not the only runner taking pictures along the course.

This is the first of the 23 crossings. It's not huge and actually wasn't hard to get around. I was just surprised it was there at all.

The first aid station was at mile 1.1. As usual, I just thanked them and kept on moving since I've only gone 1.1 miles and there's another aid station in 1.7 miles.

The one odd thing though was that my right shin was bugging me a bit. I never have shin issues, and this was the second race in a row that it had acted up early on. This made me a bit nervous, but I knew that I had options with this course - the 5K turnaround was coming up, and worst case I could drop down to it, and later I could choose to drop to the 10K since it shares the same trails. The option I really wanted though was to be able to keep going.

I suspect this was the most photographed trail marking in history. It was impressive and horrifying at the same time.

I decided to keep going at the 5K turnaround since my favorite bit of trail was coming up. These volunteers had the task of making sure all the Half and 10K runners turned here and headed up the narrow, technical Sunset trail.

This trail's a blast. My first goal in this race is to make it to the top before getting passed by the fast 10K runners. Usually that goal is no problem since we are given a 30 minute head start, but I was moving pretty slow and was a bit nervous.

The one good thing though was that hiking up this hill made my shin issue go away.

Once you get to the top of that climb, you get a fairly smooth trail down to the second aid station, mile 2.8. My second goal is to try to get here before getting passed, and to my huge surprise, I had managed to do that. I was on fire!

Everyone loves a smiling aid station volunteer!
The next aid station was five miles away and would be near the top of the big climb - an exposed, relentless climb. So I filled my bottle - a bit alarming was that I realized I hadn't been drinking much. I've had issues with this next stretch when I was a bit dehydrated, and I really didn't want that happening this time, so this wasn't a great sign. I vowed to stay on top of my drinking.

The Blur charging up this hill. For the 10K, this was the last hill.
While heading up the second small climb, I was finally passed by a couple of 10K runners.

"Hi Lliw, not your real name!"
This is the top of the second small climb. A bit of downhill follows. This is a picture of my arrival taken by that volunteer:

Picture by a Brazen volunteer. I love that she made me look like I knew what I was doing - that's not easy.
I talked with Lliw a bit and got passed by Hcir, not his real name. I wouldn't catch back up to him until about mile nine or so.

That's Hcir passing me while getting passed by the eventual woman 10K winner.
I love this view. We head out on the trail disappearing in the trees (where the 10K turnaround is), and will eventually come back on that trail that heads to the bottom of the picture.
The 10K turnaround.
By this point, I was feeling pretty good and knew that I was going to keep on going.

One last creek crossing, then we turn right and start up the big hill.
Meb, not his real name, volunteering to make sure no Half runners mistakenly took the downhill trail to the right.

The big climb is long and exposed, but it does have a few breaks, and it is rarely steep. One thing that helped this climb in the past was that we would see the lead 50K runners coming towards us. The 50K course change removed that though, so we were all alone on our uphill slog.

ACK! A downed tree, and so close to the aid station!

Once I hurdled the downed tree, I was at the third aid station, mile 7.8.

It turned out that this aid station had a secret that the Half runners didn't know; there was a cutoff. Maybe.

This aid station was also mile 16.3 of the 50K course. And because it was about the half point for them, it had their first cutoff, at 11:30. That meant they had five hours to get here.

With the old 50K course, the Half Marathon had no cutoff time (well, actually you needed to finish in nine hours, which effectively is no cutoff, even for me), and Brazen did not need to offer an early start. This meant that the Half runners this year assumed that all of that was still the case, and it's possible it really was the case, but the search and rescue people decided that the cutoff applied to all runners, and as far as they were concerned, no runner should pass after 11:30. (For the record, this meant the Half runners had three hours to cover nearly eight miles, which seems pretty reasonable until you remember that they had just covered by far the toughest eight miles of the course. My suspicion is that it had not occurred to Mr Brazen that Half runners would show up here after 11:30.)

I had no idea about any of this, and flew through here after filling my bottles. At about 11:12. Others that came behind me weren't so lucky, and ended up needing to have a lively conversation before finally being allowed to continue on.

As I headed out of the aid station, I managed to pass, for about 30 seconds, these two - Aicirt and Acissej (not their real names). It turned out that Nosaj (not his real name either) was taking pictures at that aid station, and he got this proof that I was ahead of these two.

Picture by Nosaj.

After a bit more climbing (and getting passed by Aicirt and Acissej), I was finally at the top of the hill. There were a few more minor hills between here and the finish, but 95% of the climbing was done.

This is a very happy spot to be for the Half race.

Volunteer Nom (not his - surely you get this by now) making sure the runners didn't hurt any of the cars driving up to the summit.
The good news was that I had managed to mostly catch up on my hydration, and had managed to save something for this long downhill.

I was totally stunned that I ended up passing about a dozen runners on this downhill. (To be clear, I was not a blur, but was able to jog slightly faster than these other runners. It wasn't that impressive in real life.)

Some things that happen on the trail, stay on the trail. (They were just stretching, or so they claimed.)
Some things that happen on the trail, stay on the trail. (They were just cooling off, or so they claimed.)
"Hi Xela, not your real name!"
If you are following along on the simplified course map, this was at the point where we started going back to the finish and getting serious about crossing the creeks.

This is the bottom of that second little hill. It felt great to get to go straight ahead.

The fourth aid station, mile 12.4. A bit over a mile to the finish. Aicirt and Acissej were busy rehydrating so I waved and kept on going. There was still a chance I would beat them!

Sadly, my "sprint" past that aid station pretty much drained me, and Aicirt and Acissej easily beat me to the finish.

Picture by Nahtanoj. Again.
When I started this race, my realistic time goal was 4:15. My dream was something less than four hours. I ended up at 4:00:18.

I had a pretty rough finish, and it took me a bit to recover before I felt normal enough to drive home.

The shirt, bib, and medal, all proudly based on a really irritated sparrow.
I actually felt pretty good about this result, especially considering the previous week's result. What I didn't enjoy was running yet another race without Mrs Notthat. Her PF is still keeping her from running, and that reduces the amount of fun that I have at these races.

But this is still a great event that is a big fundraiser for the Save Mount Diablo group, and has some great trails and views.

And a monster of a 50K course.

That's it - move along…

PS: You can see more of my pictures here.

PPS: Mrs Notthat and I ran the Sasquatch Scramble 10K the following week, and her PF was still a big issue. Her next scheduled event is Bay to Breakers, and that's looking a bit dubious. Hopefully she will heal fast!

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Huddart Park - Take 14 (really!)

Huddart Park, just outside of Woodside, along with its neighbor Wunderlich Park are two of my favorite trail-infested places to wander around. Partially this is due to them being reasonably close to where we live, but mostly it's because they contain some of the best trails in the Bay Area.

I went back and counted, and it turns out that the new Inside Trail Racing Woodside Crossover trail race would be my 14th race in Huddart Park (2 as a volunteer). Most of those used very similar courses, which are famous for a short but treacherous downhill bit (after you get past the traffic jam) followed by a mostly gentle but long uphill bit. Depending on the distance you signed up for, you would either charge back down the hill or head over to Wunderlich and get some more climbing there.

Three weeks ago we ran a fun race here put on by the BayTrailrunners group (Whisky Hill Redwood Run). This race was very different from the others we had done, starting at the West Meadow picnic area I had never been to and using trails I didn't even know existed.

Fast forward three weeks and it's time for a new ITR race here. This race also started at that remote picnic area, and also used trails that I had never been on before. Even better, it included a new park - Purisima Creek Redwoods Open Space Preserve. (Sorry Wunderlich - no sweaty runners for you.)

I chose to run the Half distance, which meant I would not actually cross over into Purisima. But it did mean I had to go up the dreaded Richards Road Trail, which previous races had only briefly forced us to run.

Click to see this larger.
The Half course was actually two loops - the first loop was the 10K course followed by the second loop, which involved a LONG climb that would take us all the way up to Skyline Road. As you can see in the simplified map above, this wasn't one of those courses where you could shut your brain off and just run; you needed to pay attention to the markings. Fortunately, it was well marked, with ribbons, signs, and flour (probably not gluten-free) so most runners had no trouble.

I get this look a lot when I pass someone. Nobody wants to get geezered by me.
The race started on a relatively wide trail for a quarter mile or so, which meant there was no bottleneck once we switched to the single-track trail.

It's not easy to see, but that is the trail we will be going up, with about four switchbacks in a tenth of a mile.

The Half runners had a 15 minute head start on the 10K runners. My hope had been to get to the top of our climb, roughly the halfway point of the 10K loop, before getting passed by a 10K runner. Sometimes my hopes are a bit absurd. In this case I was passed by the eventual winner, a 14-year-old name Ekul (not his real name) about a mile and a half into the course.

This was my first indication of how slow I was going up these hills, and how challenging that second loop was going to be.

Jesse Ellis (his real name!) of Let's Wander Photography grabbing shots as we stumble by.
A very cool thing was that Let's Wander Photography was out taking pictures, and they came out amazing. I love how they nearly make me look like a real runner!

I like this shot showing me stopping to get a picture of him. The woman to the right  is pretty sure I'm about to run into a tree. 
I didn't even know he had taken this shot - this was me coming back below him after a switchback.
I'm pretty sure Ylrac, not her real name, is not really threatening me with that knife. Probably. It does look like Racso, not his real name either, is prepared to hold her back though.
The 10K loop ended by coming down that technical single-track that most races start on here. That bit of trail is fun when your legs and brain are fresh, but turned out to be too much for me at this point - about 0.2 miles from the first aid station, I tripped and hit pretty hard. I had a few new pains, and was a bit worried that I wouldn't be able to continue on, but after walking a little bit I figured out that the pains were nothing serious, and I would have get to keep going.

The first aid station, with the Perpetually Perky Racso and Ylrac, was at about mile 6. From here the 10K runners turned right and pranced to the finish, while the Half runners turn left and headed out on the dreaded Richards Road Trail.

Richards Road Trail - appropriately named after a dick.
The first mile or so of the trail is rolling and no big deal. This is the bit I had been on many times before. Then it starts going up. It wasn't hot out, but this is about the only exposed part of the course,
so it felt pretty warm. My watch said I was going up at a 47 min/mile pace. I honestly didn't think I was going that fast. (For you non-runners, a 47 min/mile pace is really slow. Picture how slow you walk when it's your turn to go into the dentist office. Then walk about half that fast. You would still have been a blur going past me.)

Trees helped a bit, but not nearly enough.
The one thing I will give myself credit for is never stopping. I ended up passing several people while lumbering up this hill, but only because they were taking frequent rest breaks. I also got passed by a dad carrying a kid on his back, so there is that.

This aid station also served as a junction for the 50K and 35K runners as they headed to and from Purisima Park.
Eventually the hill really ends and you make it to the aid station at Skyline Road, about mile 9 for the Half runners, and our turnaround point.

Lliw, not his real name (on the right, who was involved in putting together this new course) told me he had been getting a lot of glares from the Half runners. I told him that the advertised 2750 feet of climbing was way low, but he insisted it was exactly correct. (He was right, but man - that was the hardest 2750 feet of climbing I've ever done. For the record, the normal ITR Half course here only has 2100 feet of climbing.)

There was a short out-and-back getting to the turnaround aid station, and I was curious whether I would see Coach Luap (not his real name). I had gone so slowly up that hill that I had to believe he would be hot on my heals, and I was right.

From the turnaround, we had mostly downhill trails to the finish. By this point, a lot of the faster 50K and 35K runners started passing me.

Another great picture by Let's Wander Jesse!

After bombing down the trail for a couple of miles, you cross this bridge, and cruelly, have to start climbing again. It's not steep, and it's not for long, but it's still a climb that I could have done without.

The finish line, finally. It took me a ridiculously long time to get to this point, but I did it. Racso took a couple of pictures to prove it.

Picture by Racso. Just. Ten. More. Feet.
Picture by Racso. If I can just make it over the timing mat.
That's quite a crew you've got there.
Before the 50K started, I told Tnek that my main goal was to finish my Half before he finished his 50K. He laughed, but I had my doubts. I ended up beating him to the finish line by about seven minutes (he had a 30 minute head start, but ran a fantastic race for 11th overall).

Nobody can say Luap doesn't use his head at these trail races.
Coach Luap ended up about 30 minutes behind me. Amazingly, he was not the coveted Dead Last Finisher though. Sadly, he had taken a nasty spill at that point a mile from the finish where we headed back uphill, and managed to crack a rib. Weirdly, he was still smiling.

Dr. Ylrac (not her real name or profession) digging most of the bits of trail out of Luap's face.
Two of my favorite runners: Htirdle, who I have never seen not smiling while doing MUCH longer distances that I ever will, and Kram (not their real names), who always manages to make these races entertaining (and finished 7th overall in the 50K).
I like that the medal and ribbon lists the elevation of the various courses.  They should have a "feels like" elevation listed too though.
This was a really hard race for me. My training has been sporadic, especially with regards hills, but it still should not have taken me a little over 4:30 to finish this. While crawling up the Dick Trail, I promised myself I would downgrade from the Half at the following weekend's Brazen Diablo trail race. But when I got home I realized that the Diablo course is shorter (this Half was 13.7 miles) and has less climbing than this course had.

What's promised on the trail, gets broken on the trail. (Or something like that.)

That's it - move along…

PS: You can see more of my pictures here.