Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Paparazzi at Pacifica

I have wanted to do a trail race out of Pacifica's San Pedro Valley County Park for a couple of years now, but something always came up and it didn't happen. This year, I was determined to get it done, and even sent in my registration WAY early just so I wouldn't have any excuses.

And then I came up with an excuse anyway.

So I decided to spend the day taking pictures of the runners while Mrs Notthat and Weird Haired Mom ran the race. While it's not as much fun as actually running the race, hanging out and capturing all the smiling runners (most multiple times) was a blast.

But first, a bit about the course. One thing to know is that it had very little flat - you were either going up a hill or down one.

To help explain the course, I came up with this simplified (!) outline. As a runner, you could run one of the following races:

10K: Pink course.
Half Marathon: Yellow course then pink course.
30K: Yellow course then pink course then pink course again.
Full Marathon: Yellow course then pink course then yellow course then pink course.
50K: Yellow course then pink course then yellow course then pink course then orange bit and more pink course.

Got that? The end result was that there was a sweet spot where I could stand and have runners coming at me from three directions, and each of those directions was picturesque.

Boredom was not much of an issue for me.

Leo giving Mrs Notthat an enthusiastic hug.
Leo giving me an enthusiastic thumbs up.
The weather was a bit cool at the start, but was remarkably clear and gorgeous.

The traditional planting of the La Sportiva flag! Let the games begin!

This was the one-year anniversary of Inside Trail Racing's first race. So there was cake. A LOT of cake.

I love how Htenaj (not her real name) is protecting the cake from early grazers while smacking this poor innocent runner.

The yellow course runners (all but the 10K runners) started first, so I wandered out a bit to get pictures of them as they flew by. I didn't have to go too far to find a spot that was fairly level and with a nice backdrop.

Once they were all past, I headed back to the start so that I could do something similar for the 10K start. And was met by these three ultra-perky runners. Knowing that they had a tough 1900' climb ahead of them, I figured they would have all the perky used up by the time I saw them next.

I headed out on the pink course to find a nice spot to take pictures as the runners streamed by, but it was pretty much all uphill (it's not considered good form to point a camera at a runner struggling up a hill - it's much better to capture them running down a hill). I found a reasonably level stretch and got all the fresh 10K runners as they headed out.

I then headed out to my perch for the rest of the day. It had the runners finishing the yellow course, the pink course, and runners heading out for a second lap of the yellow course. By the time I was done, I would see each runner twice, and some (the 50K runners) as many as seven times.

Mrs Notthat showing how to look cool finishing the yellow course.
This was my view towards the runners finishing the yellow course. (My biggest problem was the camera sometimes focussing on those leaves to the left.)

This was my view looking up at the end of the pink course. Runners finishing the pink course ran on switchbacks past that amazing tree. It was tough duty to stand here and watch them do that.

I tried to get pictures of the runners as they passed under it, but missed on a lot of them during the busy periods. I did get a picture of Mrs Notthat though.

After a short bit, the pink course runners would show up down by where I was standing, and join up with the yellow course runners.

Mrs Notthat done with her pink course and storming towards the finish line.

Oh wait, here come the ultra-perky girls! And they are still ultra-perky! Maybe even perkier! They've still got the pink course ahead of them, so maybe that will use up some of that perky.

The last view I had was of the runners heading back out for their second lap of the yellow course. Not all of them read their mail while heading out though.

One of my favorite moments was when Naw (not his real name) was finishing his pink lap - he was being chased by two kids that I had earlier seen heading up the trail with their mom.

The kids had decided to race Naw down the hill to the finish, and were having a great time doing it (as was Naw). I'm pretty sure none of them knew each other - it was just a spontaneous burst of fun that broke out. That kind of thing happens a LOT at trail races.

I love this - this is a kid having just a tiny bit of fun. (The kid's mother showed up a minute or two later and asked which way they had gone. "They smelled cake" I said as I pointed to the finish line.)

And here are the ultra-perky girls again, still ridiculously perky. I'm deeply jealous. 

I love that so many of the runners were able to smile and wave as they went past me - this was a very tough course, but a pretty one with lots of views. The great weather also helped to keep everyone happy, even while facing yet another long uphill slog.

The view from the parking lot. I'm not sure if that's the mountain the runners climbed, but I'm going to pretend it was. 
I had a lot of fun taking nearly 2000 pictures. Once Mrs Notthat and WHM were done, they were ready to go get lunch (you can only eat so many pieces of cake). Weirdly, I seem to have picked up some poison oak - I had gloves and two layers of long sleeves on, and yet my left arm and hand are keeping me busy itching.

I should have several more opportunities this year to run a race here, so I'll be fine. On Saturday I'll be taking more pictures at Brazen's Coyote Hills race and on Sunday I'll be slinging water at the Cardiac aid station at Coastal's Steep Ravine race - both of these are races I've done before and really wanted to do again. But I'm going to give my Achilles one more week of rest then test it out at the ITR Fort Ord race the following weekend.

I love how many trail racing choices we have here in the Bay Area. And I can't wait to get my sweat back on.

That's it - move along…

PS: You can see all the pictures I took on the ITR Picasa site here.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Cue depressing music, stage right

The weekend of Jan 12/13 was an anomaly in that there were no trail races in the area. There was, however, what sounded like a fun 5K put on by the Dolphin South End Running Club (DSE) that would let me run two loops around The Jewel (Pac Bell Park or whatever it is now officially called).

But let's go back to a week ago, the Sunday morning after our 22 mile Coastal Crystal Springs race. When I got up in the middle of the night for my traditional toilet break, putting pressure on my right heel caused a fair amount of pain.

This was not exactly new - for a couple of weeks I had been having mild back-of-the-heel pain the morning after a run. It quickly went away and I blamed it on the back of my shoe rubbing on my foot.

On that Sunday it was a bit worse, and it finally dawned on me that it might be more serious. So I consulted my foot bible, Fixing Your Feet by John Vonhof (his real name!), and there it was - a perfect description of what I was experiencing and a perfect description of how it came to be. Which leads to a sentence I figured my lazy butt would never have to type:

I had over-trained.

To be clear, I was doing too much too fast. (Again, it's ridiculously unlikely I would ever type that.)

About three weeks ago I started getting up early and doing short but hilly runs. I don't run up hills during races, but I thought that running up short hills while training would be good for me, and it clearly was. I felt much better during the races that I ran after I started running those hills.

But then the pain showed up. Not much, and easily ignorable, but it was there.

Mrs Notthat at Bayfront Park doing her "form" run.
Her "form" looks hot and stunning to me.
Yesterday, after a week of no running (just some minor dog walking), I chased Mrs Notthat for about a mile during her training run. It felt great to be running, it felt great afterwards, and it felt great that I would be running laps around a frosty The Jewel the next morning.

But when I woke up this morning for the traditional toilet break, the pain was back. Not as bad as last Sunday morning, and as I type this, it's pretty much gone. I could easily do a run right now and it would be pain-free, but there would be pain later.

According to my foot bible, the nature of this injury, that it really doesn't bother you when running, is what leads to it's dark side - you ignore it and eventually you end up with serious issues.

I don't want serious issues. I've got too much planned for the first half of this year to jeopardize it by soaking up the Giants aura. And likely this means I won't be running the ITR Pacifica race next weekend, or the races the weekend after that (Brazen Coyote Hills or one of my favorites, Coastal Steep Ravine).

For now, I will take it easy. I will do some stretching exercises. I will let it heal. I will also get a TON of advice from others that have gone through this (yes Coach Luap, I'm sure a foam roller would fix this in a couple of hours).

In the meantime I will likely be volunteering at a lot of races for the next two weeks or so - maybe all the way up to when we head to New Zealand (I WILL be ready for the two races we are planning to do there, both of which are fairly tame and short, I think).

That's it - move along…

Sunday, January 6, 2013

22 miles of Crystal Springs bliss

Back on Black Friday, Coastal Trail Runs had a race sale. It makes me nervous to sign up for races too far in advance since so many things can go wrong before race day, but Mrs Notthat and I were pretty confident that we would make it to the Crystal Springs race - we love these parks and this course, and since it's local, we couldn't pass up the deal. I was in for the 22 mile distance and Mrs Notthat was in for the 11 mile distance.

Then two things happened:

  • Coastal changed the 11 mile distance to be a Half Marathon (YAY!). I'm pretty sure if this had been the case when we signed up, I would have went for that instead of the 22 mile distance.  
  • Mrs Notthat managed to swim her way to a sub-six hour CIM finish, and boldly and awesomely put her name in the Way Too Cool lottery. Which she won. Her longest trail race up to this point was the ITR Santa Cruz 30K. So she decided to upgrade to the 22 mile (35K) distance at Crystal Springs. This was now a serious training run.
Photo by Sirhc (not his real name)
It was cold at the start (and during and after the race, for that mater). On the left is Haiasi (not his real name) who lives out near Nevada or so. He stayed at Weird Haired Mom's place for two nights so he could do this race and the DSE 10K on Sunday. His eyes are closed because he's trying to will that thing off of WHM's head. I'm trying to eat my pre-race PB&J while practicing my game face.

The course is a mix of loops and out-and-backs. After a tease of a first mile with downhill and level trail, you spend about five miles going uphill, with a nice fakeout at one point where you think you are done climbing only to hit the steepest trail of the race.

I drafted off of Team Stockton for the first half of the race.

In the last three weeks I've now done two races here (this one and the ITR Woodside Ramble) and volunteered at a third last weekend (PCTR Woodside). Part of the reason is it's fairly close, but a bigger part of the reason is that the trails are just plain awesome. I cannot resist them.

At mile six we hit the first aid station, Club Drannyl (not its real name).

Love these Twizzler trees.

On the 22 mile course, there was only one downed tree of note. Here, a member of Team Stockton shows one approach to dealing with it.

Another Team Stockton member admires a very fuzzy green tree.

A fun bit was seeing Ynnep (not her real name) on her way to a jet-lagged win for the Marathon. I started asking questions about her trip, her choice in socks, and whether she knew the lyrics to any Abba songs. In desperation, she distracted me by pointing and saying "Look! A rabid banana slug!" and bolting away.

Shortly after she sprinted off, I saw another runner coming towards me, and he had a camera out.

Photo by Ttocs (not his real name), who looked absurdly fresh even though he had gone almost twice as far as me.
Ttocs has a great blog that is a must read, especially for Bay Area trail runners. I'm often told that I would be significantly faster if I didn't take so many pictures during these races. But Ttocs proves that you can be ridiculously fast and take a lot of pictures at the same time.

I was too slow in recovering from the Ynnep deception to get a picture of Ttocs from the front, but I did get a picture as he sprinted away.

The 22 mile course has a long out-and-back bit to get to a turnaround point. This meant I would be able to see Mrs Notthat and get a good idea how far ahead of me she was. The answer was "not far", but it might as well have been a mile since I still had to go up that hill that she is coming down here.

A friendly wave. She's not fooling me - she's taunting me. And beating me. Again. 

At mile 11.7 I finally got to the 22 mile turnaround point, and Club Thgiwd (not its real name). Thgiwd had nobly tried to hold up Mrs Notthat until I could catch up, but she's too smart for that. Team Stockton was doing the Marathon, so they kept on going while I smiled, wished them luck, turned around, and headed back to the finish line.

There were a lot of creeks along the course, which added a lot of ambience and helped drown out the creaking noises my body was making.

At the end of the out-and-back is Club Drannyl again. They were thrilled to see me, mostly because it meant I hadn't gotten lost or fallen off a cliff. This is about mile 17.4 - only 4.6 mostly downhill miles to go! Drannyl told me I was about three minutes behind Mrs Notthat. This surprised me since I had been dragging getting back to this point.

A great sight at the end of a trail race.

Mrs Notthat beat me by a bit over nine minutes (downhill is her thing, so she easily widened her lead over that last stretch).

The longest trail race Mrs Notthat had ever done was a 30K back in August. This 35K was her new longest trail race. I had wild hopes of a five hour finish, but knew a more realistic time would be a bit under six hours. Mrs finished in 5:25 and I finish in 5:34 - not stunning times, but not bad, all things considered. And good enough for her to get first in her age group.

A runner I hadn't seen for a while, Hconah (not his real name) took second in his age group in the 50K.

Ogiad (not his real name either - sorry but this amuses me) with his 50K coaster and a cold beer. Sirhc is drinking a diet soda. And is coaster-free (although he did do a very quick Marathon).

And then Team Stockton came storming in! I learned later that this was the first trail Marathon for all three of these primarily road runners. Between the hills, buffets for aid stations, mud, and banana slugs, I don't know how they could ever go back to road races. (Well, other than being from Stockton which has WAY more roads than trails.)

This was a lot of fun. The rain held off, and even though it was a bit cold, it was fine for running. And there was a nice heater and hot soup waiting for you at the finish line. And a LOT of running friends.

This looks like the last race out of Huddart Park for a few months. Next up is a race out of Pacifica in a couple of weeks, where we have never run before.

Maybe by then I'll be able to keep up with Mrs Notthat. (Or more likely, by then I'll be able to think up new reasons for why she keeps beating me.)

That's it - move along…

PS: You can see more of my pictures here.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Hitting 100 (but not THAT 100)

A little over a year ago, Brazen asked whether people preferred to run a race on New Year's Eve or on New Year's Day. While a lot of people voted for one or the other, a surprising number of people tossed out the ridiculous idea of why not both? Mr and Mrs Brazen took a deep breath and agreed, and so the back to back races came to pass. To sweeten the pot, if you did both races, you got a bonus medal to tie the race medals together, like a puzzle.

It was very successful, so they decided to do it again this year, only the calendar wasn't as favorable, which meant the New Year's Eve race was really New Year's Eve Eve Eve. Not many runners complained about having a couple of days in between the races though.

Mrs Notthat and I signed up for the Half Marathon for both races. On New Year's Eve Eve Eve though, Mrs Notthat was fighting some nasty neck pains and switched to the 5K distance.

Picture by World Famous Etep (not his real name).
Before the first race started, Brazen held their Streaker awards ceremony.

Back in 2010, Brazen held 15 races and, on the last race of the year, surprised three runners with Streaker awards, given to those that either ran or volunteered at all of the year's races. The award is a shadowbox that contains the medals from each of the races.

This got people's attention and suddenly there was a new challenge to shoot for.

In 2011, Brazen held 21 races and, on the last race of the year, gave out 17 Streaker awards (all three from the first year also scored again). In 2012, making it even tougher, Brazen held 23 races and on Saturday, handed out 32 Streaker awards, including the one above to Weird Haired Mom.

These are really impressive, as are the people that somehow managed to juggle their schedule and not miss a race for an entire year.

And finally, the NYEEE race.

A family photo with The Endorphin Dude playing the part of me. Sort of. He looks a bit less whiny than I do.
First, it was cold. Not Alaska cold, but way colder than state law allows for the Bay Area. The good thing was that it wasn't raining, although since it had been raining, a lot, a few days earlier, anything that wasn't paved was like a fully loaded sponge.

Photo by Brazen volunteer. 

The races are held at Lake Chabot, and the Brazen course is infamous the slog up Live Oak Trail; a long, sometimes steep climb that on this day was very muddy and slippery.

For the most part, the rest of the trails were in reasonably good shape, with occasional puddles and sloppy sections  to have to deal with.

And a number of downed trees.

One of the trees snagged a frog and knocked my hat and glasses off, which made it look like I had went head-first into the trail.

Before the race, I had set myself a goal of finishing in under three hours. I knew this wouldn't be easy - the recently reconfigured version of this course adds a bit more climbing and distance to the previous versions, but I was determined to do it.

And I did, finishing in just under 2:57.

The better news was that Mrs Notthat survived her 5K in flying colors, and was convinced that she would be able to run the Half on New Year's Day.

The NYD race was special in that it was the 100th lifetime race for both of us. (There have been many races we did not do together - us ending up with the same number is bizarre.)

And Mrs Notthat was indeed feeling fine and raring to go for the Half.

The fun thing was that we got to run the course in the opposite direction, which surprisingly makes it seem like a totally different course. There was a fair amount of discussion about which direction was easiest, and most felt the reverse direction was easier since it meant that we would be going down the Live Oak Trail. Plus the course is slightly shorter in this direction. (Looking at the winning times, the reverse direction was three minutes faster, but the course was dryer with fewer downed trees, so it might not be a fair comparison.)

Photo by World Famous Etep (still not his real name).

Most of the downed trees were still there, so Mrs Notthat got to try her hand at crossing them.

Another difference was that the shooting range was closed for the NYD race. Usually you get to spend several miles listening to very enthusiastic gunfire that often sounds like it is within just a few feet of you. Race veterans are used to this, but newcomers can get alarmed by it. The quiet on NYD was a nice change, although it meant I could better hear the creaky eucalyptus trees, which are uncanny at sounding like they are going to topple over at any moment if there is the slightest breeze.

Photo by World Famous Etep. Again.
This picture is of the same area of Live Oak Trail as way back earlier in this report - note how dry it is, but how rutted and challenging.

Photo by not nearly World Famous Not A Canadian. Eh.
I had hopes of keeping up with Mrs Notthat for this race. I also have hopes of flying to the moon, and it's looking like the moon is much more likely now. Mrs Notthat had several pacers that pushed her along so that she ended up with a stunning time of 2:38. Yeah, I don't think her neck bothered her much.

Photo by Brazen volunteer. I partially blame my slow time on that thing on my head. It greatly increased my wind resistance.
Meanwhile, I had been shuffling along, with my legs not nearly as perky as they had been for the NYEEE race. I was OK with not posting a sub-three hour time, but when I got to the top of the last hill and did a tiny bit of math, I realized it was still possible. So I charged down that hill (OK, I shuffled a bit faster down that hill) and made it to the finish line at 3:00:16. There was no way I figured I would get that close, so I was thrilled. But if I had taken a couple fewer pictures or picked up a couple fewer empty GU wrappers…

The races were a blast. The weather was good, but very chilly - especially on the NYD race when the breeze came up. The medals were awesome, although if you only did the first race, you got a peculiar medal with a horse's butt. (The NYD race got the horse's head, and if you did both races, you got the horse's wings. And one of it's back legs.)

There were MANY running friends doing these races, which made them feel more like a party at times. A cold but sweaty party.

That's it - move along…

PS: You can see more of my pictures for NYEEE and NYD.