Saturday, April 23, 2011

The problem with an island race... that you have to take a boat to get there. For a farm boy from Kansas, this is not an insignificant issue.

Mrs Notthat and I ran today's Coastal Ayala Cove trail race on Angel Island. It had been nearly four years since the last time we had been there. The Boy reminded me last night that I had a very hard time coming down a set of stairs on the trail back then (for some reason, I had forgotten all about that - thanks for reminding me and giving me something else to worry about!)

We showed up at the Tiburon Ferry Dock at around 9:30, for a 10:00 ferry to a 10:50 race starting time. Remarkably civilized! That's Angel Island straight ahead - we will end up circling it twice, with the last time getting us to the top of that mountain in the middle of it.

That's our ferry on the right, and a rescue boat on the left. I would have felt a lot better if there had actually been someone in that rescue boat.

Race Headquarters in kit form. Many of us runners helped carry on a lot of this, and once we survived the crossing to the island, helped carry it to the staging area.

I didn't notice until I looked at the pictures that a lot of life preservers were under that pile of Race Headquarters. As if the boat ride couldn't get any more stressful.

Mrs Notthat and I getting in one last hug before we head off into what will surely be our doom. I then went looking for the life boats.

There they are, but how they expected us to get to them was beyond me. I started looking for the tallest guy there to make friends.

Is this a great race or what! That orange cone is the starting line, and five feet past it is the aid station. (I tried not to linger there too long once the race started, but hydration is the key to a good race.)

There were lots of great wildflowers along the trails.

And lots of great trails. There were no real tendon-snapping climbs even though there was a fair amount of elevation gain. There were those dang stairs though...

Angel Island is infested with stunning views. Since the weather was reasonably clear, we got to spend a lot of time looking at this sort of thing.

And this.

The Stairs. There must have been 100 steps, but I flew down them. Three times (once for each of my loops and a third time after going up to find Mrs Notthat). That is Enirehtak (not her real name), a Canadian with a New Zealand accent. Or something like that. She is smiling because she is nearly done with her 5 mile race.

The finish line for some, but for me this was the halfway point, and I got to head up the toughest of the loops - the Mt Livermore ascent.

As close as we got to seeing a waterfall.

A group of hikers I had passed. When they heard me thundering up behind them, the one at the back yelled out "CAR!" I turned to thank him for not yelling "BUS" or "ELEPHANT" - when I turned back around I smacked my head on a low tree branch. The tree branch appeared to suffer no damage. The Blog's ego, however, may never recover.

I hoped to finish my race before any of the 15 mile runners did, and came close, but ended up being passed by three of them.

The top of Mt Livermore. The cool thing was that it was all downhill from here (granted, some of that was on those dang stairs).

The finish line again - this time for real!

I headed back up the trail, and up those stairs, and found Mrs Notthat storming towards me. She said "Hi" and threw her extra clothes and walking sticks at me and was gone. I then said "Hi" back.

Mrs crossing the finish line. She was way ahead of me by this time - fortunately my camera has a good zoom lens.

A fine post-race lunch: a chicken tostada (mine), garlic fries (hers), and some weird vegi wrap thing (definitely hers).

Mrs Notthat waiting for the ferry back to the mainland. It was getting significantly colder by this point, so all the warm clothes were put back on.

It was an extremely fun day. I got third in my age group, but that was mostly (OK, entirely) due to there only being three people in my age group. There were four in Mrs age group, so she did not get a medal. (I'm still wearing mine, and by tomorrow, will be talking about how I beat out dozens of others for this thing.)

Many thanks to Coastal and their volunteers for putting on such a fine race.

I wonder if Angel Island has an airport though.

That's it - move along...

PS: You can see a lot more pictures here.

PPS: There were three distances, each comprised of a mostly unique five mile loop. I thought about doing the 15 mile run, but the first loop was mostly on pavement. In retrospect, I wish I had done it anyway - this island has too many great views to not see them as many times as you can.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

No trains but lots of leg power

Brazen Racing had their first Full Marathon yesterday, part of the Western Pacific train-themed event. I had vowed to run any marathons they put on, but took that vow back when I saw that this was a very flat course. (I know - I don't know when I became such a trail snob; probably the winter Bear Creek last year was the beginning of that.)

I also knew they were going to have seven aid stations, which meant they would need a lot of volunteers, so I threw my hat in that ring. I was assigned to a Full Marathon aid station out in the boonies (although there was an even boonier aid station). We drove our supplies out on the trail (a HUGE thanks to the ranger guy that let us do that) - one thing that happens when you drive stuff out like this is you really get a good sense of how far these runners are going; it's impressive).

We start a bit before dawn (but about two hours after the Brazen people had showed up - it's a lot of work to set things up and there were going to be about 1000 runners to get ready for). This is the gathering area for the aid station volunteers.

Once we got to the aid station site, the other two people started setting things up while I drove the supplies out to the boonier aid station.

The boonier aid station was at the Full Marathon turn around on a long out-and-back stretch. Even though it wasn't that challenging turning the runners around (the alternative was going into the bay), this was a tough aid station since it was very exposed and only saw the runners once, so there wasn't a lot of activity. They did get to be the first to shut down though.

Back at our aid station, the magic that is duct tape was put to good use on the canopy. It was hard to resist offering duct tape as the solution to all runner issues throughout the day. ("Your hair's getting in your eyes? Here, hold still while I get you a bit of tape HEY! Where are you going? Wow - your speed suddenly sure picked up!")

There were a lot of non-racers that passed through our bit of the trail, including several on horseback.

This particular horse was a bit spirited and was determined to visit our aid station. We need to get carrots and sugar cubes added to our supplies list for next time. (The horse could not get the hang of a GU packet, which put him in the same class as me. Speaking of GU, there was a flavor none of us had ever seen before - Plain. We dared each other to try it, then finally settled on splitting one between us. It was kind of like honey, vanilla, and a whole lot of sticky all mixed together, and got thumbs up from all of us.)

Being out on the boonies meant we missed the vast majority of the race, including Mrs Notthat, the grandkids and their parents, and much of the rest of the trail hijinks that was going on. Then this morning I started looking at the huge number of pictures that had been posted and was able to get a good feel for how things had gone back there. For example:

Mrs Notthat teamed up with Nivek (not his real name) to storm through the Half Marathon course. Mrs Notthat totally gets the "there's a guy with a camera so we need to pretend to be running" thing, although laughing while doing this (instead of grimacing in pain) is a bit of a giveaway. Note how warmly they are dressed - the weather started out cool...

...but then the sun came out and the layers came off. (By this time Nivek knew the jig was up on the pretending to run thing.)

I really like this picture.

I don't know who this is, but love the panda hat. Go Giants!

The grandkids and their parents all did the 5K race. The train theme was just too cool for Riley, who was a little sad that they wouldn't actually be racing a train. Weird Haired Mom and Darci stayed together. And wait - what's going on below Darci's bib?

Now THAT'S and born trail runner. The look is not that important - it's function that matters. (OK, the look mattered a bit - there was no way she was wearing a blue shirt.) And the focused look that screams "I'm gonna eat your lunch!"

Needs Cool Name and Riley had the added challenge of herding Dove the Wonder Dog through the course. All of them finished in less than an hour, which was a PR for the grandkids.

OK, back to the boonies and the aid station. And a capeless Endorphin Dude and Sidekick steaming down the trail. (He doesn't wear his trademark cape on trail races since it gets snagged on the trees, shrubs, and creeks. He didn't know this was not one of those trail races though, which is why he finished last, but I'm getting ahead of myself.) He does tend to have more fun in these races than anyone else.

The one guy that comes close is Einre (not his real name either), who was following close behind.

I loved what this guy had on his back ("Hi, I'm Doug. Say hello! Marathon #40!). I could do something like that, but since I'm pretty much always at the back of the race, nobody would ever see it.

Another back message. Seriously, I've got to give this some thought.

And then a fun surprise - the grandkids showed up with WAY too much energy for having just finished their 5K race.

Maybe they were a bit happy to see me, but mostly they knew there was an aid station stocked with fun things to eat. I've been told that NCN wears PJ bottoms as his race day trademark. It could be worse.

Darci, who ran a flawless race, managed to fall and scrape her knee while visiting. Welcome to the Real World of Trail Racing.

Mas (not his, oh, you get it by now surely) the Sweeper is a great sight after a long day at an aid station. (The broom is for wiping out the flour markings. The bike is because he has to cover a lot of ground. The smile is because he likes doing this.)

The sun brought out a lot of lizards to cheer the runners on. (They do this by flicking their tongues, which is not really all that effective, but it's the thought that counts.)

Once we packed up and headed back to the finish line, I went out to see how the race between The ED and Einre was going. I approached this area with great trepidation.

This is one of my co-volunteers who is getting in a fun run to work out the stiffness that comes from hours of standing at an aid station.

I caught up with Einre, and he was still trailing the ED, although by not much. He promised he would whip ED, and I believed him.

I also caught up with Brazen Hussy Eiram, who was busy closing down various bits of the course. There are so many things wrong with this picture that we don't have time to go into them all here.

This picture ("Look ma! I don't even have to look where I'm going!") shows that she lives a charmed life by somehow managing to avoid ending up in the lake.

Einre did it! He stormed across the finish line (no thanks to me guiding him the wrong way, adding 50 feet to his race) well before Endorphin Dude.

Who showed up shortly after, having stole two trail ribbons from Mas the Sweeper. 

This was a great day with wonderful weather and fun runners everywhere. Even the locals that normally don't have to share their trails with forces like ED had fun with it all.

Except for maybe that disappointed horse.

That's it - move along...

Monday, April 11, 2011

50K take two

Note: I was going to title this "DLF > DNF >>> DNS," which as most of you know is "Dead Last Finish is greater than Did Not Finish is MUCH greater than Did Not Start." I was absolutely sure I was going to be the last person to finish the PCTR Skyline to the Sea 50K trail race. I wasn't, but just barely.

Last year I noticed this Skyline to the Sea trail race and got a bit excited, until I noticed it was already sold out. So this year, two months before the race, I signed up for the Marathon. I had my doubts I could finish the 50K in the 8 hours allowed, and anyway, the 50K people had to go up a bonus hill, so the Marathon sounded about right.

Last month I attempted my first Ultra, the Brazen Mt Diablo 50K, and failed spectacularly. Which made me feel even wiser for having signed up for the Marathon.

Peer pressure is an extremely powerful thing though.

This is a point-to-point race, and since very few people can manage driving two cars to the race, most of us parked near the finish line and rode busses up to the start line. It took 75 minutes to get up to the starting area - there aren't any direct routes through here (other than the trail, and these busses have no chance going up that).

After I checked in I found Eiram, Nimsaj, and Mas (not their real names) keeping warn in their car. They had an even better way to beat the bus ride; use Mas as a Mobile Support Station. (Mas had just run a 50 mile race the day before - he said he was sore, but man, he certainly hid it better than I ever have.)

So what was the very first thing out of Nimsaj's mouth when she saw me? Not, "nice weather" or "nice shirt" - it was "I asked and you can upgrade to the 50K still." Of course both Eiram and Mas agreed that would be the wise thing to do, and I started to waver a bit (the weather was ideal and I was feeling perky, so maybe...) but then baby Speed Racer mouthed the word "wuss" and I knew it had to happen.

$15 later and I had now added five miles and about 600 feet of climbing to my day.

The thing that helped make this seem right was that this would also be Nimsaj's first 50K (Eiram probably couldn't even tell you how many she's done - I think she looks at these as training for her real runs). Here we are, waiting for the race to start. According to the finisher's list there were 219 runners - 69 Marathoners and 150 50K.

The first six and a half or so miles are a gentle downhill on gorgeous single-track trails. It was a bit congested at first, but being slow, I didn't mind. An hour into the race and Eiram was probably already 30 minutes ahead of me. I lost track of Nimsaj and assumed she was drafting off of Eiram.

Running through the redwoods is about as good as it can get.

Me, still feeling perky and moving quite well.

The first aid station, at about mile 6.5. All of the aid stations were great with lots of helpful volunteers, food, and hydration stuff. (The woman in green was trying to take my picture, but I took hers first.)

From here we had our first real climb. Nothing steep, but it did slow me down a fair amount.

Eventually I pulled into the second aid station, at about mile 11. I filled my bottles and was about to take off on a nice long downhill section when I heard someone calling my name.

Completely unexpectedly, Nimsaj had been a bit behind me and not way out in front as I had expected. She had had a few issues with gravity (the trails often had these small but incredibly tough roots that looked like innocent twigs - I later slipped on one and fell into a muddy area), but was doing great otherwise.

The two of us headed down the hill and I managed to keep up with her for a couple of miles or so before she took off over this odd rocky area and was never to be seen again. (All I could think of was that falling on this rocky area would NOT feel good, and then I'd probably get eaten by a snake since snakes like sunny rocky areas. I don't like snakes.)

There were a number of creek crossings to deal with - each a little different than the other.

This is the third aid station - the station that separates the Marathoners from the 50K people. I still had my Marathon bib on, and it wouldn't take much to just keep going down the trail and do what I had set out to do when I got up this morning. I had a minor excuse too - my calves had started cramping up a bit, especially if I tried anything other than going straight ahead.

This was at mile 16, and 50K people had to be here within four hours of the start or end up just doing the Marathon. I cruised in with 15 minutes to spare, so I didn't have that excuse.

But then I saw Mas the Mobile Support System and knew I really had no option. (Again, the kid mouthed "wuss," this time with a mouth full of what looked like Sweet Potato GU. Once he gets the hang of walking, I give him six months before he's whipping me.) So I took a salt capsule for the cramping and went on my way, up the hill that defined the five mile loop.

A lot of the trail in Big Basin was like this; those are all evil tree roots doing their best to bring you down. The legs were still having periodic fits of cramping, but I would stop and stretch them a bit and that seemed to help.

At the end of the loop you are back at that same aid station, only this time you get to keep going down the trail. There's another hill, but it's not much compared to the others, and the finish line and pot of chili is sounding really good about now. For those keeping track, I am now up to mile 21 - 10 more to go. I'm now 5:15 into the race; 10 miles of mostly downhill in 2:45 (there was an 8 hour limit) seemed like it should be a breeze (It should have been).

We had been warned that there were a few trees down across the trail. These were BIG trees - there was a reason someone hadn't just shoved them out of the way. I crawled under this on on my hands and knees.

We had also been warned that there had been a rock slide and there was a small bit of the trail closed. This meant we had to take a detour that would add about 0.5 KM to the race (is there such a thing as an Ultra 50K?). Naturally, the first thing the detour did was take you up a bonus hill. I'm not good at converting KM to miles, but I'm pretty sure this 0.5 KM was equal to about 2 miles. At least.

After a bit we saw these conflicting signs. The white one whimsically says "It's all downhill from here" (which turned out to be true for me, since it was at about this time I started feeling bad) and the brown sign which says "Warning: strenuous trail ahead. You probably won't survive."

We had been warned that a bridge had washed out. When we came to this one, we marveled at their ingenuity at getting the bridge back up and working right before the race.

And then we made it to Berry Creek Falls. They were running like crazy and were a blast. The guy in blue is a fellow runner, and even better, just like me he takes a LOT of pictures at these events. The guy in green was just trying to figure out what that smell was. (There is a link to a better picture of the falls, and a lot more pictures, at the end of this post.)

So much for marveling at the State Park System's bridge building ingenuity. I don't know what this was supposed to be - I really hope the winter storms or a trail prankster messed these up and this was not intentional - but I had the hardest time walking on these. (That runner is taking a picture and not falling in, as it appears.)

And then the last creek crossing, and finally, the washed out bridge. Normally this would have not been a problem to cross, but with my cramping legs and general yucky feeling, it took me a bit to scramble across.

With about five miles to go, I realized two things: I would already be finished if I had stuck with the Marathon; and I was pretty much done running. The trail was perfect at this point - downhill, no tree roots or rocks, but every time I tried to run I would get nauseous and have to stop. So I settled for walking.

And then a vision from the heavens appeared. OK, maybe my heavenly visions need work, but at this moment, Einre (not his real name either) appeared. I knew he was supposed to be working an aid station, but hadn't seen him and wondered whether he had made it. And then there he was, walking out to find out where I was.

And Einre being Einre, he was perky and positive and exactly what I needed. I still felt awful and wasn't going to be doing any running, but there was no doubt I was going to finish now. He'd drag me if he had to.

He walked with me to the last aid station, which was only a mile and a half from the finish, and from there walked me to heavenly visions number two and three, Eiram and her husband, who were also out wondering where I was. Einre headed back to his aid station (they knew of two other runners at least that were behind me, so he needed to go back and get them taken care of).

As I was walking with Eiram and her squeeze, we heard runners coming up from behind - it was the two women (with a husband that had already finished and went out for some bonus mileage to find them) running in. Smiling. Almost laughing. Eiram said "You can still take 'em" but I knew that wasn't happening.

She did manage to get me to run the last 100 yards or so to the finish line, where I joyfully stopped.

Not only had Eiram stuck around (she had finished the race in under six hours - more than two and a half hours before me), but Mas and Nimsaj (who had finished in less than seven and half hours) were still there as well. (And I swear that kid winked at me and mouthed "not a wuss.")

My final time was 8:42:02, significantly longer than the allowed eight hours. And I knew I was the last one in after being passed by the perky women. But then three more people came in. And the title for this blog post was ruined.

The shirts for this event were spectacular. And as an added bonus, since this was my first Ultra, I got a coaster commemorating the event.

There was a point, about five miles out, that if a leprechaun had appeared and gave me the option of being done but settling for a Marathon, I would have done it. But leprechauns are not real (probably) and I had no option but to keep going. There was a van at that last aid station, and if Einre hadn't been there to keep shoving me along, I might have called it quits there.

And then there were the others; Eiram (how could she possibly still have so much energy???) and Nimsaj and Mas and the kids - no way any of this would have happened without their support and encouragement.

And of course, all the people with PCTR and the volunteers were great. There was a mother/daughter that flew out from Georgia to do this race, and I can see why. The trail was awesome, and together with very good weather (I even got a bit of a sunburn!), this was a stunning day.

My first day as an ultrarunner.


That's it - move along...

PS: Oh, the link to more pictures.

PPS: So, why did I end up feeling so badly? I have a theory. (Runners always have a theory for when things go wrong, since the alternative is to just not run anymore. And that's not much of an alternative.) For the first half of the race, I was sweating a lot, as normal. And I was drinking a lot of fluids - some water and some sports drink. When I took the salt capsule, it made me even more thirsty. On that five mile loop I drank both of my 20 oz bottles. I filled them before heading out for the final 10 miles, but was stunned to notice after about two miles one of the bottles was nearly empty - I was drinking a lot, but weirdly, was not sweating so much anymore.

My theory is that I should not have been drinking the sports drink after taking the salt capsule - I should have just stuck to water since the sports drinks just added to my salt level, and I just ended up retaining the water. And feeling awful.

This might not be right at all, but it's what I'm going with for now. I had been eating well so I don't think that was an issue. But I've never gone through so much fluid in such a short time.