Sunday, July 21, 2013

No dogs, but two reservoirs!

At first I thought it was a bit odd to give a trail race the same name as a quirky, wildly violent movie. But unlike that movie, this race actually had not one, but two reservoirs! And quirk to spare. I don't remember any dogs though, but I don't think that movie had any dogs either. (I've never seen that movie since I'm pretty sure Adam Sandler wasn't in it and Mel Brooks had almost nothing to do with it.)

Inside Trail Racing's Reservoir Dogs race was the first one to get access to the trails that loop around Briones Reservoir, which made this race pretty exciting and a "must do." To loop around the reservoir though, you had to sign up for the 35K distance (the longest offered). Mrs Notthat and I were not quite feeling up to that, so we both did the Half Marathon, which turned out to be an Ultra Half, and more than enough for us.

This picture, taken just before the 35K start, has two interesting bits:

1) A woman is trying to pull up a tree while a guy feebly tries to hold it in place. I forgot to verify whether the tree was still there later.

2) Another woman, the amazing Enibas (not her real name, in the purple calf sleeves, red shorts and yellow shirt) is carrying what appears to be an emergency backup runner on her back. This 35K is just a tuneup for an upcoming event where she will run across most of Iceland, and the pack is to simulate the pack she will use for that, when she must carry all her food, clothing, and sleeping bag with her. Emergency backup runners are optional.

Once the 35K runners were sent on their way, we had 30 minutes to prepare for our Half start. I figured I wouldn't be able to keep up with Mrs Notthat, and I knew I had no shot at Nerak (not her real name), but I thought that, just maybe, if all goes well, I could possibly keep up with Alegna (not her real name either). You can see how worried they all are about my chances.

Also note the sunshine. It actually wasn't all that warm at this point, and the sun felt good, but we also knew that it would soon warm up. We really had no idea what to expect from the trails - were they exposed or shaded by lots of trees? We would soon find out.

I love this picture - does Mrs Notthat look like a stud trail runner or what!

This is only the second race that I have worn a hydration pack, and I wouldn't have worn it here except I was still recovering from some sore spots on my lower back from a past run with poorly adjusted shorts. Wearing a pack messes with me mentally and I think it slows me down a bit. At least that's the story I'm going with.

As it turned out, a lot of the course was through trees, with a lot of fun single-track trails. There were hills, but they weren't as bad as the elevation chart made them look.

Go Mik (not your real name) Go!
The Half and 10K courses were out-and-backs that shared the same trails for 3.1 miles. Just before the 10K turnaround, you had to go up a fairly steep trail to the Briones dam. I just kept telling myself while trudging up that hill, that, eventually, I would get the thrill of flying back down it. Not like Mik was flying, but what passes for flying for me.

Aynwat (not her real name) greeting me with a smile and fluids!
Once you made it to the top of the dam, the 10K runners got to turn around and head back down that hill. I was thinking at this point that the 10K runners were extremely smart. For the Half (and 35K runners much earlier), we got to keep going along Briones, but uphill still.

A very tempting bench and nice view.

The cool thing about an out-and-back is that you get to see all the runners - those in front of you ("Hi Mrs Notthat!") and those behind you (very few in my case). Mrs was not as far ahead of me as I had expected, but I knew my chances of catching her were slim since most of the way back is either downhill or flat(ish).

Nowhere did the course description mention a creek crossing.
There was a cruel little gully to go through to get up to the Half turnaround point. The surprising thing though was that I still had not seen Alegna - she was either hopelessly lost (unlikely on this course, but she has surprising talents) or I was about to catch her.

This is how close I got to her - that's the turnaround at the red awning. She yelled a bad word and sprinted away. (It does not go well for your ego if you get geezered by me.)

For a proper Half Marathon, the turnaround should be at mile 6.55. This turnaround aid station ended up at just under mile 7. (Yes - I paid for 13.1 miles and ended up with nearly 14! Booyaa!) Note that the 35K runners kept going straight from here to do a lap around Briones.

I didn't spend much time here since I still felt I had a chance at catching Alegna, and I headed back down the trail.

Leaving that aid station was a bit of rolling trail before the last real climb, which was reasonably mild and would be followed by a lot of downhill that was very runnable. This could happen!

But it didn't. My left knee acted up a bit at about mile 20 or so during Brazen's Dirty Dozen the weekend before. For this race though, I figured it would be fine since it was a relatively short distance, and so I opted not to wear my knee brace.

Bad decision. Once I hit the top of the hill and started down, the knee yelled at me a bit and I knew catching Alegna was not going to happen. So I resigned myself to walking the downhills and enjoying the views.

This is looking across the reservoir at the 35K runners going across the dam on a long, exposed bit of trail. By this time it was quite warm and I knew that couldn't be pleasant.

I made it back to the first aid station, ate some fruit, and stumbled down the trail that I had long been dreaming of flying down.

I had no trouble imagining how the others had floated down this trail. Heavy sigh.

This sign made my day. (Well, it and that little yelp from Alegna.)

My goal had been a sub-3:30 finish, but I ended up settling for a sub-4:00 finish (barely). I was quite happy to see the finish line regardless of the time.

It was a great event! I loved the trails and getting bonus distance for my Half Marathon dollar! I do think the 35K is the ideal distance though - I heard that the trails were pretty good around the reservoir (other than that flat, exposed bit along the dam).

There should have been more dogs though.

That's it - move along…

PS: You can see more of my pictures here.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

The dozen keeps getting dirtier

Brazen Racing's Dirty Dozen Dirty Half Dozen Double Dirty Triple Dirty Dirty All Day running festival is always fun. There's a huge choice of events to run, and many opt to risk fracturing the space-time continuum and run multiple events at the same time.

For me, I was keeping it simple and focusing solely on the 12 hour event. For the third time in a row. Mrs Notthat, who last year teamed with Weird Haired Mom for the 12 hour event, chose to run it this year on her own.

Leading up to this event, the Bay Area had been in the grips of a heat wave. I had hoped it would cool off a bit by race day, but this was absurd.

Point Pinole is a small peninsula that sticks out into San Pablo Bay, which means that, in addition to great shoreline views and trails, it's also subject to strong winds. It was very cold and windy at the start.

Selym and Retep aiming to win while Drannyl (none of their real names) works out how long it would be until lunch.
I had thought it would be funny to start the event in a four-point sprinter's stance, but these guys were nothing but serious business. (HA!)

Chris Bliss storming down the only mildly treacherous bit of trail on the course.

It would hurt my head to try to work out how many times I've been on these trails for a race, but they are always inviting and fun.

This is looking down the start chute that you ran through each time you headed out for another lap. The red awning on the left is the official aid station while all the others (and there would have been more if the wind hadn't been so fierce) are recharging/cheering/hideout stations that various runners set up.

It was very easy to get a bit distracted while passing through here, and in the past, I would often end up spending way too much time talking, sitting, and generally enjoying myself in this area. I was determined to avoid that trap this year, and I did pretty good.

The Perky Princess of Plaid on her way to breaking 50 miles.

A unique thing about this event is that, in an effort to remind us what it looks like to run on fresh legs, there are 5K and 10K races held near the end of the 6 hour and 12 hour events. So there were two arches - one for those of us that had been out there all day and another for the shorter distances.

After a bit, inspirational signs started popping up along the course. Most of these were great, but I have to question getting running advice from a Dodger that has never met a plate of pasta he didn't eat.

After wandering around in the trees for a bit, we came out onto this meadow where you could see and hear the finish line in the distance.

A new addition this year was "Clocky" - a trash talking mascot that I would have bet serious money would not make it through the afternoon.

These guys were a lot of fun out there - they were "rucking" (I think that's Finnish for "let's do something totally nuts"). Each of them carried a weighted backpack, from 45 to 80 pounds, in addition to that flag (that REALLY enjoyed the windy day). The goal was to keep going for the entire 12 hours and to each get an ultra distance in. They reached their goal easily.

Post-5K-race bliss in front of the Notthatlucas hideout.
On Thursday, Mrs Notthat talked her massage therapist into coming out and running her first race ever, the first of the 5Ks. Mrs ran it with her and, by all accounts, she does not have to go find a new massage therapist.

OK, this was not my proudest moment.

As I approached the end of one of my laps, I was stunned to see that I was going to end up passing Sirhc (not his real name), who is a proper runner that, under normal circumstances, I would have no hope of passing. But he was really hurting and well past the point where a normal person would have curled up in the back of an ambulance.

But the important part is that I passed him. IN YOUR FACE SIRHC!

The Running Mama showing how her Western States buckle could make for a nice grill.

Towards the end of my day, I decided I needed an arch-nemisis to pit myself against. Better yet - two! Hteb (giving me the stank eye) and Nairb (not their real names) were running this race for the first time. But they weren't fooling me - they knew what they were doing and they were just as determined to take me down as I was them. (They each also wrote entertaining race reports for this event here and here.)

While I was getting a blister attended to, they headed out for another lap. But I still managed to pass them in spite of Hteb's best efforts to trip me up.

Photo credit arch-nemisis Nairb, who caught me eating a pizza, and made my running career  by comparing me to Dean Karnazes - likely the only time that will ever happen.

As I headed out on my final lap, I was tired, hurting a bit, but determined to get it done. And then that dang Clocky showed up to taunt me one last time. A well-placed knee to the crotch (who knew clocks had crotches?) and I scooted past him.

Photo by Brazen volunteer.
An odd thing about this race is that, after being out there for 12 hours, I never once saw Mrs Notthat on the course. She ended up getting her longest distance ever, 34.37 miles.

Photo by Brazen volunteer.
In the end I finished 12 laps. (Each lap was 3.37 miles.) This got me 40.44 miles, which ended up as my longest distance ever (by a whole 0.14 miles).

I REALLY don't want to know what they are finding so funny.
Once I stopped moving, I started getting really cold. The wind had never let up, and while it had been fairly warm in the middle of the day, it was now cooling off again. Thankfully these two were willing to help me put my pants on.

The day was a blast and I was quite happy with my end result. I always go into this event hoping to somehow get to 50 miles, but that always eludes me. This year I felt like I got a lot more things right than in previous years, and if I hadn't had that foot blister issue, plus a toilet issue that slowed me at the start, I could have gotten significantly closer to that goal.

And as for my dual arch-nemisis? Hteb beat me by a whole 0.67 miles, but I beat Nairb by a stunning 0.02 miles. BOOYAA!

That's it - move along…

PS: You can see a lot more of my pictures here.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Last Chance and a Running Mama

Last weekend was the 40th official running of the Western States Endurance Run. This is an amazing and magical weekend where nearly 400 runners head out from Squaw Valley, intending to end up in Auburn less than 30 hours later.

Four years ago, Coach Tom at San Jose Fit tried to convince us to volunteer at the Last Chance aid station, which has been run by Steven's Creek Striders for forever. I was new to all this, and wasn't entirely sure he wasn't just pulling our legs about runners going 100 miles, so I gave it little thought.

The next year I discovered trail running, learned that there really are races longer than a Marathon, and worked at a couple of aid stations. So, a year too late to be there with Coach Tom (who passed away), Coach Curt and I headed up to work at the Last Chance aid station for the 2011 version of the race.

Last Chance is an amazing aid station. It's at mile 43.3 and just before the first of the notoriously hot canyons. It's also in the middle of nowhere - forget cell reception or easy access; in fact, stretches of the rough dirt road that lead to it are part of the course, which means once you are there, you can't leave until the race is over. And you have to get there early before it closes.

The Last Chance Minivan, with 400 pounds of ice, leaves the main road.
So a lot of us show up Friday night and camp out. With the mosquitos. A LOT of mosquitos. And this year, a bear. (Apparently some miners around there have taken to feeding a bear, so there was a bit of concern that it might visit us. Thankfully, it didn't.)

We had a traditional campfire, which this year was not really needed since it was still very warm. But it's traditional, and seems to frighten the mosquitos.

Yes, I know those are stars and not snowflakes. I have no idea how to draw snowflakes.
Last year was very peculiar. We woke up Saturday morning to rain. A cold rain. Up higher, the runners faced brutally cold weather with sleet and fierce winds. That was not going to be the case this year. It was hot. Very hot. It turned out to be the second hottest running of the race ever.

One of the important areas of the aid station is lovingly called "The Car Wash," where runners get cooled off with sponges full of cold water and ice that they can liberally put anywhere that will make them feel better. (Runners are remarkably creative at finding those places.)

A guy named Dick had been the head of the Car Wash for many years, but gave it up this year. Since I happened to be standing in the wrong place at the end of last year, I ended up inheriting the buckets, sponges, and the task of supplying the bulk of the ice we need. 400 pounds of it. On top of that, the volunteers were encouraged to bring a bag or two to add to the pile - I suspect we ended up with over 600 pounds all together. (And had maybe 70 pounds left over at the end.)

I'm willing to bet that we also have the best decorated porta-potties on the course!
Curt filling a bucket. I think between the two of us and a couple of others,  these buckets got filled 40 to 50 times during the day.
One of the cool things about this site is that there is a natural spring about 100 yards from the trail. This spring supplies unlimited cold water that we use liberally at The Car Wash.

The view the runners have as they come up on Last Chance.
Pre-runner briefing. We were thanked for not getting eaten by a bear.
I'm not sure how many people were volunteering at the aid station, but there were a LOT, including medical people and the radio operators.

The runners have the option to supply a drop bag that they can use here. The bags might contain special food, fresh shoes or clothes, or anything else the runner might think that they might need at this point.

No - he does not have a bladder condition.
The runner lounges for runners that need a bit of a break before facing the canyons. These were more popular this year than any of my previous years here.

And before we knew it, the first runner arrived! Hi Hal!

Each runner is weighed as they enter the station. (Volunteers in red shirts are medical. Note the Hawaiian theme. Aloha!)

The second runner, and eventual winner, Tim came in and was met by Dennis, who did not in fact tackle him.

The first runners through generally do not need a lot of car washing. So the car wash people started causing trouble with the spray bottles.

Alison joined us at the Car Wash and turned out to be very popular with the women runners that were keen to get ice put in places that were WAY out of Curt's and my comfort zone.

Go Keith! You'll see him again in a bit.
As the runners left us, they checked out of the aid station and headed into the woods, and after a bit, down a steep trail to the heat of the first canyon.

Tawnya - a bit of ice and Kent is a changed man! You should try this at 3 AM just for fun!
The race also has a bunch of safety patrol volunteers that go along the course looking for people in trouble. They were busy this year.

 I knew five different runners in the race, and it was fun when they started showing up. Like Catra the Awesome.

One of my favorites was Janeth, AKA Running Mama, who was attempting her first WSER 100. We'll see more of her later.

A HUGE crowd favorite was Gordy, who was the very first person back in 1974 to think that this course, which was actually set up for a horse race, would be fun to run on foot. Gordy is not normal.

Dan freshening up a bit. The cold water was a bit shocking.

The cutoff time for our aid station was rapidly approaching and one of my runners had not made it in yet. And then I heard her number called out by the spotter and ran up to meet her. Don't let the smile fool you - she was in a fair amount of pain and ended up dropping at our aid station. The amazing thing was that she had been in pain for a while, and still managed to make it this far and make the cutoff!

Shortly after Emily came in, the sweeper horses arrived - our official cue to start packing up since all the runners are in. We got them some fresh water to drink.

Before Emily left, I gave her her sign. (I made signs for the runners I knew and put them along the trail as they exited our aid station. Last year's extreme weather sadly meant a number of runners didn't make it this far. This year, all my runners made it!)

Curt and I got to take the drop bags to the finish line. The coolest thing was getting to drive the Last Chance Minivan onto the football field!

We missed the first few male runners coming in, but got to see the female winner, Pam! This was SO cool!

A bit later Keith came in. Curt and I stayed at the finish line all night (although we both got a short nap) - it was just so cool to see all these runners that we had seen 56.9 miles ago coming in to finish this race.

This runner was a blast when he came through our aid station many hours ago. I meant to ask if he had worn that umbrella hat all night long too.
Eventually the night was over but the runners kept coming. They started at 5 AM on Saturday. The end of the race is at 11 AM. The closer we got to 11, the more fidgeting and tension you could feel.

There was still one runner I was waiting for - Janeth. I had been tracking her progress all night and was thrilled that she was going to make it. Ken "All Day" couldn't take it anymore and headed back up the course to find her and help run her in.

Meanwhile, a group of us, including her husband and a shirt-challenged son, were waiting here.

Janeth is the one in blue. She was pumped up and running faster than I do at the start of a 5K.
There was zero chance of her being lonely on her way in - she had a huge crew coming in with her and it was so exciting to see her enter the stadium.

Janeth was joined by her husband and sons.
The family coming down the home stretch.
Done! With over an hour to spare!
I loved this finish. It still chokes me up a bit when I look at these pictures. Amazing!

And that was it. Curt and I packed up and headed home, tired but smiling. This is a magical event and I love being involved with it, and I love that the Last Chance people keep letting me come back.

One of the things that strikes me at these events is how normal all these runners are. Even the elites (the winner finished in a bit over 15 hours - the heat actually made this a bit of a slow race, compared to last year when many records were set) come across as normal people that you wouldn't think twice about if you saw them on the sidewalk. I love that it's not out of the question that I could one day run this race.

That day is still a ways away though.

That's it - move along…

PS: You can see more of my pictures here.