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.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Taking a shot at the Fort Ord 50K

The last time I ran as much as 20 miles was July of 2014. Back in November I ran a 25K. Over the holidays and during the HURT trip, I had a total of two "long" training runs of 10 miles and several 5K and 10K races. Very few hills and little real distance or time on my legs.

To say I wasn't trained for a 50K was an understatement. Mrs Notthat surprised me by wanting to run the ITR Fort Ord 25K, and after studying the course maps a bit, I decided to throw my hat into the 50K. I really needed to stretch myself a bit, and what better way than what looked like a relatively mild 50K?

Simplified 50K and 25K course map. Click it to see a bigger version.
There are four distances at this race: 100K, 50K, 25K, and 10K. There were a number of opportunities for a runner to get off course, especially if they didn't spend any quality time with the course map before the race. But it really was well marked and, if you paid attention a bit, you would be fine.

The 50K elevation chart. The red arrow will be explained later.
That elevation chart looks a bit intimidating, but if you look at it closer, you see that most of the climbs are in the 200 to 300 foot range, which really isn't that bad. The total elevation gain was about 3400 feet - I've run a number of Half Marathons that had more elevation gain than that. The one thing that makes this a bit mean is that last six miles - it has the biggest climbs and it is at the end when you're the most tired.

All in all, this looked like a very manageable 50K. It does have two things that add to its challenge though - some very sandy bits and a lot of sun-drenched exposure. While it might not get all that hot, the sun beating on you can make for a long day. The sun has been my enemy in the past, and often leads to stomach issues.

But today I had a secret weapon; Tailwind Nutrition. I had never used it for this long of a distance/time before, but I had great hopes that it would stave off tummy issues.

The race starts outside of Laguna Seca Raceway. The 100K runners got the bonus of two hours less sleep as they started at 6AM. The well-rested 50K and 25K runners started at 8AM, while the 10K runners got to lounge around until 8:30. Well over 200 runners started at 8AM.

It was so clear and view-infested during this race.
Most of the first 3.5 miles was downhill. It's really tempting to go out fast, but I was determined to take it easy and save some legs for later.

Not all of that first bit was downhill.
The first miles are all on fire roads with a lot of nice views to distract you.

Eventually you make it to the 50K/25K split. And this is where the trail gets really fun for the 50K runners.

It was so weird how you would be going along on terrain that would be perfectly at home in Arizona, then suddenly be in something like this; all those oak trees with the Spanish moss and soft single-track. These bits of trail were so fun that they would make up for a LOT of the other trails that left you thinking dark thoughts about the RD.

Kram, not his real name, done with the 100K bits of this part of the course.
As we headed out to that first aid station, we were met by a few of the faster 100K runners that were done with the course in this section of the park.

Eventually we arrived at the first aid station, about mile 4.8. All of the aid stations had enthusiastic volunteers and lots of food.

Not everyone was as perky as Rimidalv (not his real name).

After a bit we hit the loop at the top of the lollipop bit of the course.

Which immediately introduced you to sand. Deep sand that hated you.

But then, just as you started wondering why you were here, you hit a trail like this. Amazing trail porn.

This intersection proved to be a bit challenging for a few runners ("Hi Annahs and Yrag, not your real names!") - the main trail continued straight, but the 50K runners got to use a shortcut up that sandy hill. Your brain would argue that the 100K trail looked much easier, but it would add about two miles to your race.

The 50K shortcut was not without its challenges.

If you stuck with it though, you would eventually end up back at the first aid station a second time, now at mile 8.4.

From there you double back to that 50K/25K split and continue on the 25K course until you hit the third aid station at mile 12.2.

At this point I was still doing great. There was a pretty significant climb out of this aid station, but not that much worse than some that we had already done.

This was a little confusing for the 25K runners, but this is where the 50K and 25K runners split up again, with the 25K runners taking a shortcut towards the finish.

In the back of my mind, I had always considered this spot as a place I could decide to cut my race a bit short if things weren't going well. I would end up going about 23 miles and could maybe talk Mr ITR into giving me credit for the 25K.

But I was feeling fine, and decided to get the 50K done.

One note about these trails; they are very popular with mountain bike riders, and who can blame them. In general, we were able to share the trails with the bikes with no issues, outside of a few that were going really fast on some of the narrow trails. I didn't hear of any actual issues, but the possibilities were there. However, everyone seemed to coexist quite nicely.

That bench looked amazingly inviting.
At about mile 15, I started to feel pain in my calves while walking up the hill. This was new to me, and I suspected it was due to my ridiculous lack of training; my calf muscles were really straining with the effort. I slowed down a bit and tried different things to minimize the issue, but nothing really seemed to help.

More sand.
The calf issue kept getting worse, and was most troubling on the uphills.

As I started going down the hill into the fourth aid station, I had pretty much decided that I would have to drop. Most of the climbing was still ahead of me, and I was really afraid that if I tried to keep going, I would risk some real damage, potentially to my Achilles, which I was not willing to risk.

I was happy to see that there was a parking lot at this aid station, which meant that it would be easy for Mrs Notthat to pick me up. My heart was light as I slogged to mile 18.

And then I saw who was volunteering there. My heart sank as I knew it would be almost impossible to convince Mas and Aynwat (not their real names) to let me drop here.

And I was right.

My screams are still echoing in the canyons of Ft. Ord.
First, Aynwat gently massaged my calves. The pain was stunning.

Next, she stretched various bits of my legs and feet. Not as painful as the calf thing, but it still got my attention.

Coach Laup (not his real name) coming in to the aid station.
After all this was over, I had to admit that my legs, including the calves that, a few minutes earlier felt like they were about to burst into flames, all felt pretty good. Tired, true, but tired I can deal with.

When Coach Laup showed up, it was decision time. Do I really follow my heart and drop or do I head back out and test my new legs? By this time I had been there for nearly an hour. What this meant was, if I continued on, and if I had to walk the rest (there was basically a Half Marathon left), I would likely have to finish in the dark.

I had my out.

It had not occurred to me to bring a headlamp, since it had not occurred to me that I would be so slow. No way Mas and Aynwat would make me finish in the dark. I was smiling until Mas handed me a headlamp.

Dang. No more excuses.

So Laup and I headed out. Between this aid station and the next, there was some significant climbing that would be a good test of my calves.

I loved this dad and son sprinting up this hill, just for the fun of it.
At first, all went spectacularly well. I was just walking, but I was moving well and pain free. But then the pain started coming back - not as bad as before, but more than enough for me to decide that the final six miles just might do me in.

Flamingos showing the way to the fifth aid station at mile 24.6.
As soon as I got to the aid station, I called Mrs Notthat and told her what was going on and asked her to come get me. If you look at that elevation chart way back up at the start of this report, the red arrow shows where I stopped. I could have likely gone another six miles OK, but not those six miles.

A brave volunteer restraining a skeleton from tackling me.
I waited for Laup to arrive and passed the headlamp on to him, since he was determined to finish this race. (He was jilted out of last year due to some course vandalism that led him off the trail.)

Coach Laup bizarrely having a great time.

And that's about it. It's never easy to "do the right thing" and voluntarily drop from a race. "If the bone ain't showing, keep on going" doesn't always work. I've got a bigger goal in my near future and I really didn't want to risk it.

I got eight hours and 24.6 miles on my legs. That was much needed, and gives me a base to build on. I made it to all of the aid stations and saw most of the great views. And slogged through most of the sand. And climbed most of the hills.

Except that bit at the end. The hard bit.

That's it - move along…

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

PPS: What about Mrs Notthat and her 25K? She managed to finish, but for the first time ever, ran out of water in her hydration pack between the last aid station and the finish. On that hilly bit. But she hung in there and finished well. And managed to find her way out of the park even after they had closed the main gate.

PPPS: I had forgotten that ITR uses Tailwind at their aid stations. This meant I didn't actually have to bring all those pre-measured bags with me. The Tailwind worked marvelously. I ate nothing else outside of some watermelon that Aynwat tried to distract me with as she was thinking of other ways to get me to scream, and I never had any stomach issues - this was a race that classically would have caused me lots of issues. I can't tell you how great it is to get through something like this feeling good, tummy-wise.

PPPPS: I cannot thank Aynwat and Mas enough for putting up with my whining and getting me back out on the trail. I may not have finished, but getting that next 6.6 miles and crossing the 20 mile mark did me a world of good. You two were awesome!