Thursday, March 5, 2015

How to avoid needing to buy a new belt

On January 4th I decided that running my first 100K on February 28th, the Razorback Endurance Race that was two whole months away, was a good idea. I was not daunted by the fact that, for the last two months, I had run exactly one race with double-digit mileage (Coastal Malibu Canyon 25K). After all, I still had two months to get into 100K shape.

Yes, there was a DNF at a 50K, but for the most part, things went well. Until I woke up with a cold a little over a week before the race. And now I was a bit worried.

I had high hopes the cold would go away before the 100K, but it didn't. Fortunately, it didn't get any worse either, so while I wasn't going into this race as perky as hoped, I still felt that a finish was well within reach.

As I explained in a previous thing, there were a couple of reasons for me to feel confident:
  • I had a 36 hour cutoff. That's a long time. Lots of rest breaks can be taken.
  • I could always switch to the flat course from the trail "relentless" course.
For fun, I created a comparison of the elevation charts for the two different courses. This was the first one, and I posted it to the Razorback Facebook site. I suspect that within ten minutes at least a dozen people had emailed the RD to change their course selection.

The green bit is the 2 mile paved course and the red bit is the 4.75 mile trail course.
So that others (and myself) could sleep better at night, I created a second version with a less horrific scale. (According to my Garmin, each trail lap had about 780 feet of climbing. Each paved lap had about 91 feet.)

Still, the fact that the trail course had a LOT more climbing than the paved course was impossible to avoid. The trail course, though, was also about a billion times prettier and more interesting than the paved course. For 100K on the paved course, I would have to do 31 laps. For the trail course, I would have to do only 13 laps.

I arrived at Harvey Bear Ranch County Park in San Martin at about 5AM, which gave me time to set up my tent before the 6AM start. The forecast was for scattered showers over the day, and I would need someplace dry to change and protect my stuff. It would also provide a place to grab quick naps and such.

It was still dark out at the race start, so headlamps were in use.

The trail course had a number of these old oak trees scattered around.
Before my first lap was done, the sun had risen and we could see the views we would be facing throughout the day.

Note the solar panels to the right. I don't think they ended up creating much power on this remarkably cloudy day.
At the end of the trail lap, we would join in with the paved lap runners and pass through the timing/aid station area.

Motivational signs like this were scattered along both courses. 

The trail course's climb was actually broken in two, and it always felt great to get to this point where the first part of the climb was done and you got to cruise along on some flats and downhill for a short bit.

Note the view. It was amazingly green out there.
A lot of the trail course was made up of fire roads, but there was a fair amount of single-track as well.

There was one particular area on the flat bit where a gang of cows chose to hang out and torment us runners. On the first lap while it was still dark, they were off to the side. On the second lap, this cow decided to try to intimidate me. It didn't work and I went past him calmly, but ready to scream like a two-year-old if he made any kind of a sudden move.

Playing chicken with cows was not covered by the pre-race FAQ.
On my third lap, they decided to team up on me. Again, it wasn't an issue, and as I kept getting closer they grudgingly gave way and let me use one of the trails.

Photo by Leahcim (not his real name). Brave pose by Yar (not his real name either) who, because he was in the 72 hour event, ended up on a first name basis with these cows.
My favorite picture of the cows was taken by Leahcim a bit later. I swear these cows would do just about anything to get their picture taken.

One thing that happened on the second loop was that I ended up tripping over a rock that was sticking up maybe a quarter of an inch from the ground. Sadly, there was nobody around to get my picture as I was laid out on the trail.

I never actually counted, but my guess is there were about a half-dozen cattle gates we had to go through on each lap. And every one of them had their own personality. (And no, I didn't purposely time it so that Yzztik, not her real name, always had to open them for me. I'm not that good.)

It was hard not to feel like you owned the trail once you were nearly done with a lap. "Well done Etak (not your real name)!"
Picture by Ettedanreb, not her real name, but a real 100M finisher!
Aynwat (not her real name) had spent the past couple of days providing medical support for the 72- and 48-hour runners. When she saw me struggling to get the top off my water bottle, she stepped in and saved me.

All morning long we could see fierce clouds circling around us, but we seemed a bit blessed since we remained dry, and even had bouts of sunshine.

But that was about to change.

On my fourth lap (which got me to mile 19), I had really struggled and for the first time started to realize that going 100K (62 miles) was maybe not going to happen. I had fully expected to get to at least the halfway point before things started falling apart, and was now worried.

I took a long break before starting my fifth lap, hoping that some rest would help, but it made little difference. My cold was making it clear that it was not happy and my legs were whining about all the climbing.

Brazen people in the house! And raise your hand if you're going to get your first 100 mile buckle!
At the end of my fifth lap I had pretty much decided that I really needed to drop to the 50K, which was graciously allowed by Ycart (not her real name) the RD. Doing the 50K meant I had to go for one more trail lap though.

And by now, the storm was getting serious about adding some spice to our day.

Also by now, a number of runners that had run the reasonably nearby Brazen Hellyer race stopped by to take in the atmosphere. Since the atmosphere was largely filled with a cold, windblown rain, they managed to take in their fill pretty quickly, and most took off.

One guy though, Occor (not his real name), decided to hang out some more. He really wanted to see what the trail course was like, so I invited him to tag along as I made my last lap.

Occor is not right in the head.
The trails had been bone dry and solid all day. I figured that since the rain was just starting, they would still be in pretty good shape.

I figured wrong.

The trails fell apart very quickly. They became the kind of sticky mud that clumps on your shoes and won't let go, adding several pounds of weight and making each step an adventure.

Selfie by Occor. I couldn't believe how happy he was to be struggling up this hill. It's worth noting that earlier in the day he had run a sub-two hour Half Marathon.
The Endorphin Dude was really struggling with the mud. Occor gave him a hug, kicked him in the butt, and told him to keep moving.

We took advantage of every opportunity to scrape off the mud. It was fruitless though since it would just all clump up again about four steps later.

Cleaning the shoes off using a barbed wire fence seemed like a good idea at the time.

The further we went, the more it rained, and the worse the trails got. This is a sequence taken on a particularly hairy uphill curve that was about 100 feet from the top of the climb.

The Endorphin Dude is always giving back, and selflessly kept this hill from sliding away.

It was about this time that we realized that this was going to be everyone's last trail lap. Between the damage we were doing to the trails and the damage the mud was doing to us, this couldn't keep up. Even if it stopped raining right then, it was going to take a few days for the trails to recover. (And the trails were indeed closed at about that point.)

A coyote is not impressed near the end of my sixth lap.
Once my sixth trail lap was done, I still had to do one and a half paved laps to get the miles up to 31.

At first the paved trail seemed like a blessing - no mud caking on your shoes and no hills sucking the life out of your legs. But my heart was not in the paved loop, and I was thrilled when I was done.

This was the Sign of Turnaround that you had to go out to for your "half lap" out-and-back bit.
I loved the wooden finisher medal and the Ultra Gam buff swag.
This race was my first shot at a buckle, and it was a bit humbling. I finished the 50K in a bit under 12 hours (by far my longest 50K ever), which meant I still had 24 hours to go if I wanted to continue. My cold was starting to really make its presence felt though, and it was an easy decision to stop.

And since the trail loop was no longer available, I would have had to get all my remaining miles on the paved loop, and that would have quickly become torture.

Above is what my elevation chart should have looked like with reasonably even pacing.

This is what it actually looked like, taking into account the breaks and such. After my fourth lap, I took a long rest, but I had no idea that it was an hour and a half - I thought it was about half that. It always amazes me how fast time goes by when you're not moving.

What's also a bit funny is how I was convinced that my fourth lap had taken about twice along as my third, but in reality it was almost identical - it just felt like it had taken twice as long. Obviously my mental game is not good.

This shows the trails I went on, with the trail loop on the right and the paved loop on the left.

This is the start area zoomed in; I like that it shows the detail of me hitting the porta-pottie a couple of times and the one time I headed out to the van to warm up.

There was only one place, near the top of the hill, where there turned out to be uncertainty about what trail we were supposed to be on. On the first lap, while we were still mostly in the dark and still grouped together a bit, we came to a split in the trail and everyone just took the obvious trail that got you to where you wanted to be. It wasn't until much later, when I saw a runner go straight at that turn, that I started to wonder if that right turn was correct. When I saw the above I realized that almost for sure I (and others) had likely been slightly cutting the course. It was kind of an interesting tradeoff; the way I went was a bit (maybe 100 feet) shorter, but was much steeper.

The end result was not affected much, but I now wish I had gone the longer route, if for no other reason than to have had a gentler climb. This was the only part of the course that could have been marked a bit better (there was actually a third trail option here as well).

Now that several days have passed, and I've had time to reflect, I'm mildly second-guessing my decision to drop to the 50K. I love that many friends stuck it out and managed distance PRs, and I wonder if I could have managed one as well. But I've done enough races now that I know better, and have to be fine with my decision - it was certainly the right one at the time. But a buckle…

The event was a lot of fun - I can't recommend the race enough. This was the first year the trail option was offered, which made it the first year I was willing to run it. The trails were awesome, even when that climb became so tough later in the day.

I honestly have no idea how the RD and all her volunteers managed to keep it together for such a long time - the 72 hour race started at 6PM on Thursday and the event wrapped up at 6PM on Sunday; that's a remarkably long time to have to deal with a bunch of sweaty runners, keeping straight who was running what course, making sure we were all well fed, and always instantly being able to answer the question that was on every runner's mind:

"How many miles are done now? And please oh please make it a big number. Lie if you have to."

That's it - move along…

PS: You can see more of my pictures here.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Regardless of how it ends, it will be epic!

There are a couple of races that take advantage of a flat, paved, two mile loop in Harvey Bear Country Park, just outside of Morgan Hill, for long distance races: Run de Vous and Razorback.

Attempting long distances on a two mile loop is great for first timers and for those that are shooting for a PR - it's very social since you see everyone often, the aid station is so close you likely don't have to carry anything with you, and there's great comfort in knowing that, if something goes wrong, you are never far from the aid station.

Approaching the start/finish area on the two mile loop. This was from 2013 Run D' Amore. Note the dirt shoulder and the tents - it turns into a small village!
Unfortunately, there are two adjectives used to describe that course that pretty much rule it out for me: "flat" and "paved". There is a dirt/gravel shoulder you can run on, and that helps a bit, and there actually is a vague hill (about 92 feet of climbing), but there isn't much else. No trees, no creek crossings, and almost nothing to trip on.

In 2013, a new race, Run d'Amore, used the course but added a twist - a one mile out-and-back up a real hill on a real trail, making each loop into a four mile trip. I signed up for my first 50 mile distance and had a lot of fun there. I loved the trail bit and put up with the paved bit, and it worked out to an OK balance.

Ésoj, not his real name, says "Hi!" from near the top of the hill in 2013. The views are great, even after dark.
This got the RD for Razorback thinking, and this year she has done several things to make this event as epic as possible:

  • You want to pile up serious miles? She added 72 hour and 48 hour races to the schedule. (This might be the first 72 hour race in California ever, and is certainly the only one this year.)
  • You want to pile up more standard serious miles? She still has the 24 hour (which can become a 100 mile event if you meet the cutoff standard), 100K, 50M, Marathon, and Half Marathon distances.
  • (And the one that suckered me in this year) You want trails? We've got your five mile, hill-infested, "Relentless" loop right here!
You should be able to click this to see it bigger.
Razorback for 2015 pretty much covers all your bases. You can choose which course you want to use (with the exception of the Marathon and Half Marathon which must use the two mile loop), and you can even change your mind once. Which means you can start out on the five mile loop and then, once it gets dark, move over to the two mile loop. (But that's it - you can't switch back again.)

In any case, I've signed up for the 100K distance, and am determined to do it on the trails. For 100K, the difference between the two loop choices is significant: about 2800 feet of climbing vs. about 9100 feet for the trails. Additionally, while you could get by without carrying any water for the paved loop, you will likely need to bring something for the trail loop.

About as much shade as you will get on either loop.
Both loops are pretty exposed, and it can get both very warm during the day and very cold at night. If a storm comes through, the wind can make things challenging. For right now though, the forecast is looking good, with cloudy skies but no rain.

The trail loop has several sections that do not handle rain very well.
I'm going into this a bit under-trained, but with little time pressure, I'm not too concerned about that. I can take several long breaks if needed (they will be) and still finish. 

So what are my goals?

First, I just want to get the 100K done. I have 36 hours to do it in, so time won't be an issue. I really want to get it done in under 24 hours, and think that's pretty realistic. Under 20 hours is not actually insane.

Second, I would love to do the whole race on the trail loop. I can see two things derailing that: Bad weather (that trail loop becomes very challenging when muddy) and body issues. 

I've had occasion when going up or down a hill can cause significant pain. If that happens, I'll switch to the flat loop (I'll probably take a short break first though, just to see if the issue will go away with rest.) I love that I have that option since it adds a level of confidence that you don't normally get at a race.

All of this makes me really excited about this race! There will be a lot of people I know out there, and many are shooting for much larger goals than mine ("Hi Tnek, not your real name!"). It promises to be an epic event, no matter how it goes down for me. 

A HUGE thanks to Ycart (not her real name) and all the volunteers that are making this event possible!

That's it - move along…

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Yes, we really are in a drought

Let's go back to February 2014. California was in a record-breaking drought. No rain meant we were stuck with really great trail running conditions throughout the winter.

Then the Sasquatch Rattlesnake Ramble popped up on the schedule.

And it rained like crazy.

Fast forward to February 2015. California is still in a record breaking drought. The lack of rain has meant another winter of really great trail running conditions.

Then the Sasquatch Rattlesnake Ramble popped up on the schedule. Again.

And it rained like crazy. Again.

RD leading a chorus of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow."
About 20 minutes before the start of the race, the rain stopped. Since it wasn't cold out, it was kind of nice, in a moist way.

Mrs Notthat, who is much smarter than me, chose to run the 10K instead of the Half Marathon. The sad part of that was that I would not see her again until I finished, WAY after she finished.

My poncho-wearing arch-nemesis in my sights.
The first and last mile and a half or so of the race was on pavement.

A surprise was that my arch-nemesis, Yram (not her real name), was also running the Half. I managed to pass her early in the race, but I knew better than to get to too cocky. Not that that stopped me.

"Which way do I go?"
A really nice thing about Sasquatch races is they often have volunteers at any major turns that a runner might miss. In this case, the pavement continues on, but the course takes a right and gives us our first taste of the muddy trails.

Ack - I've been passed by my arch-nemesis!
The trails were very wet, but were for the most part remarkably solid. There was no clumping of mud on your shoes or all that much slipping around.

As normal, the course was well marked (outside of one short stretch that some vandals had hit, leaving behind the stubs of the ribbons), and if you looked hard, you could even still see the flour markings.

One thing that's awesome about running just after a rain is the way the woods smell. A large chunk of this course is in eucalyptus trees, and they smelled heavenly.

They're smiling because they know when I get there, their day must be nearly done.
A bit after mile four we hit the first aid station. By this time we were getting hit with occasional showers, but it was still not too bad.

While getting my bottle filled, I looked back and saw my arch-nemesis quickly approaching. We had passed each other several times so far, and she looked determined to pass me again. I tried to bribe the volunteers to trip her or something to slow her down, but they just laughed. So I took off.

Another brave volunteer making sure we stayed on course.
By this time we were starting to get hit with stronger showers that hung around a bit longer. The puddles were growing and the trail was getting a bit more slippery, but it was still not that bad out.

Kind of a funny thing - way back when we were still several miles from the shooting range, we could hear LOTS of enthusiastic gunfire. But as the rain picked up, and we got closer, the enthusiasm seemed to peter out a bit, and by the time we were close, it was actually fairly quiet. (Granted, this would only have been true for those of us at the back of the pack.)

ACK! A Sasquatch! In rainboots!
You will always see "Sassy" somewhere on the course. I was pretty sure the rain wouldn't scare Sassy away, but I was starting to wonder. But there she was at the second aid station, about mile eight.

As you can see, it was seriously raining at this point. Which was a bit of a problem since we were about to tackle the part of the course that I was dreading the most; the steep downhill bits of the Live Oak trail.

I don't really like running down this trail when it's dry, at least the steeper bits, but with a heavy rain falling, it was like a giant slip-n-slide. I really took my time going down this and managed to (barely) stay on my feet, but this slowed me down a lot. Someone with reasonable skiing skills could have fairly easily just slid down this hill.

One thing worth mentioning about this trail is that it was the same trail the 10K runners had to run on, only they had to both go up it and then go back down it. Granted they got to do that before the rain really got started, but it was still a mess and would have been challenging for them.

Another very soggy course guide volunteer.
Eventually I got to the bottom of that hill in one piece. I knew what lay ahead, but, after all I had been through coming down that hill, the Bridge of Death did not scare me.

I figured the bridge would at least me mud-free, but it actually had a fair amount of mud on it making it pretty slick after all.

"Which way do I go?"
At the end of the bridge, the 10K runners take a shortcut and head to the finish, while the Half runners take a long cut and go up one more hill.

That rock is not supposed to be there.

About halfway up that hill, the rain got serious. It flat poured. The trails turned into shallow streams.

"Are you keeping hydrated?"
Around mile 10.5 we hit the third aid station. This was the top of that last hill. The downhill from here is very runnable, even when muddy, and I was really looking forward to it.

A few days earlier, that creek along the side of the trail would have been mostly dry. I had never seen it this full before - you could have easily taken a kayak down it. The trail/stream was dumping huge amounts of rain into it.

This is that creek passing under the pavement.
At the bottom of the hill we got back on pavement. The rain let up a bit but was still pretty steady.

It didn't matter - the finish line was coming up fast!

And then it was all over. The rain stopped a bit before I crossed the line, and while I was completely soaked, I wasn't feeling chilled at all.

So I took advantage of the post-race adult beverage. Or two.

And then headed back out to find my arch-nemesis. I may have taunted her a bit, but I was also envying her poncho.

Mrs Notthat had finished her 10K hours ago, changed into dry clothes, and spent a lot of time in the van waiting for me to finish. Once I came in, she came down to cheer in Yram.

The fun thing about finishing the Half was that I got a great snake-based medal.
This ranks in the top three as far as the most moist races I've ever done. The odd thing is that it may not even be in the top ten as far as races with sloppy trails; it was amazing how well most of the trails held up, even in the pouring rain. Other than the Live Oak Slip-n-Slide, there were few real issues. I wasn't mud-caked or even very dirty, granted that last dump of rain would have taken care of any of that.

The normal course for this race (which I'm not sure has ever been used) is pretty mild for a trail Half Marathon, with only about 850 feet of climbing. The rangers at this park are very protective of their trails though, so they insist on using an alternative "inclement weather" course when the conditions are dodgy. The inclement weather course is not quite as mild, with about 1700 feet of climbing. (The 10K runners also ended up with a more challenging race, going from 290 feet of climbing to 650 feet of climbing.)

Regardless, the race was a blast and I'm really glad I stuck with the Half distance.

But next time, I'm not forgetting my snorkel at home.

That's it - move along…

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