Thursday, September 27, 2012

Falling. No style at all.

Disclaimer: I am not a "thrill seeker." You won't catch me on a roller coaster. I'll never try green ketchup. So the views expressed in this post need to be weighed against the fact that I'm a wuss. 

The group I work in wanted a fun team building experience. It was decided that we should all find out what a brick feels when it's tossed from the top of a high rise.

Fortunately, there were no nearby high rises, and instead, we all headed off to a place that uses a couple of box fans and a glass tube to recreate the falling brick sensation.

When we arrived at iFly in beautiful downtown Union City, it was filled with close to 100 school kids. We were early for our scheduled session, so we got to watch 7- and 8-year-old kids frolic in the glass tube.

This did nothing for my confidence. They made this look easy, but I was pretty sure it was a trick. Then one of their teachers got in the tube, and I got to see how horribly wrong this could go.

Then our instructor/guide/tormentor walked past and grabbed twelve of us and told us we would be the first group. That I didn't wet my pants is a point of pride for me.

We watched a safety video, were shown a series of hand gestures that would be key to our survival (it's noisy in the tube and we were all wearing ear plugs), and were suited up in a worrying amount of safety gear.

Finally, it was our turn to enter the glass tube's waiting room. I lunged for the last spot but was beaten to it by Eiluj (not her real name). One by one, our instructor/guide/tormentor dragged us into the tube and expertly kept us from getting killed. (Actually, the most danger is in you deciding that it's better to smash your face against the wall rather than using your arms to push off it.)

Could I look any less happy to be here?
And then it was my turn. I leaned in, stuck out my arms, spread my legs, and was flying. Sort of. It really is a strange feeling to be effectively falling at terminal velocity and yet not have to worry about smacking into the ground. My whole focus was on not doing anything wrong and ending up in a ball on the safety net (which is surprisingly easy to do - twitch an arm just right and you are either performing an advanced move or on your back on the net).

Once my 60 seconds was up I was guided to the exit door where I took my spot on the bench. I DID IT! I survived! My arms and neck were surprisingly tired, and I couldn't wait to get those goggles off, but I was done!

The last person finished and I was ready for the instructor/guide/tormentor to do his fun bit and then it would all be shut down and we could exit the tube.

But then he grabbed the first person and dragged her back into the tube. "OK; she's the boss so she's just getting a bonus flight" I told myself. But then the next person went in too. And worse, this second time the instructor/guide/tormentor would grab you, spin you, and fly you up high in the tube.

I managed to get through that bit (the spinning high thing was not that bad - the scenery changes but you hardly feel anything different), and was thrilled when he started to aim me towards the exit. But I was a bit too anxious and grabbed too early and before I knew it was on my back, about one foot from my salvation. Heavy sigh.

And that was it. Thankfully there was no third turn, so the instructor/guide/tormentor did his thing (it's amazing what they can do in this tube) and we were done.

• Was this fun? For me, it was interesting but "fun" doesn't come to mind. For most others, it definitely was fun.

• Would I do it again? HA! No. Again, most others would have gladly taken a third turn.

• Is it safe? Yes, mostly. If you panic, you could possibly smack a shoulder or your head into a wall and hurt it, but realistically, it is very safe. (Having said that, my neck is mildly sore, but that might have been from my graceful exit on that second turn.)

Afterwards, I had an elk burger at Fuddruckers and headed back to work.

And yes, our team is built better now.

That's it - move along…

Sunday, September 23, 2012

So that's what a roasted pig feels like

Mrs Notthat and I ran the Brazen Trail Hog Half Marathon at Joseph D Grant Park outside of San Jose. We had run it last year, so we knew it was mostly exposed and hot and that it was tougher than its 1760 feet of climbing would suggest.

So naturally, I thought it would be fun to run it with a major breathing impairment involving a novelty hog nose.

Photo by Brazen volunteer. That thing was not as comfortable as it looks.
My initial plan was wear this for the start and end, and any time I saw someone with a camera. But there were so many people with cameras that I ended up wearing it the whole time.

Photo by Brazen volunteer. Grandkid Second Born and an incognito Endorphin Dude want more heat.
I'm really not sure what is going on in the above picture, but I'm sure it violates several stipulations in the park usage permit.

The simplified map for this course is not really all that simplified. Fortunately, there were volunteers at all the scary points to make sure everyone stayed on course. (The Brazen Rabbit must have used a record amount of flour to mark this course.)

Finally the race started, and we were off in a cloud of dust.

A short ways out I found Weird Haired Mom and the grandkids, taking pictures and making sure we were staying on the right trail.

The race starts by climbing the biggest hill on the course, which you reach to top of at the first aid station, mile 2.25. To be clear, this is a mild hill compared to most Brazen races, but it was still more than enough to get your attention.

You can just make out the second aid station in the distance.
When you leave that aid station, you mostly head downhill. And mostly in the sun. It was starting to warm up by now.

The second aid station is at mile 4.13. The next one is about 4.5 miles and a second fairly serious hill away, so it was wise to get well hydrated here.

Photo by Brazen volunteer. 
Mrs Notthat loves the sun and will never complain about the heat. She's so weird.

Photo by Brazen volunteer.

I keep telling myself that if I didn't stop and take pictures, I'd probably win the race. (In reality, I likely lose about a minute total because of the picture taking. Since I usually take about twice as long to finish as the winner, leaving the camera at home would only minimally help my time while making me have to come up with some other excuse to stop and rest during the race.)

This picture doesn't really show it well (there's actually a runner, Alram - not her real name, hidden in there), but part of that trail between the second and third aid stations is the best on the course. Granted, a lot of it is going uphill, but being in the trees for once was a nice change.

The volunteer is happy to see me since it means the search party can be called off.
Finally, the third aid station at mile 8.63 appears - we are well over half done. But the heat was really strutting its stuff by now, and I was starting to drag a bit.

There are two small hills between here and the next aid station - the last two real hills on the course. And no shade.

The fourth aid station is actually the second aid station a second time. It's at mile 11.13, which means there is only a bit over 2 miles left (the Half was actually about 13.4 miles long). And a chunk of that is downhill. Sadly, I was not able to take advantage of that, and ended up shuffling my way towards the finish line.

The one surprise was that Haiyr (not her real name) was actually behind me coming out of that aid station. She quickly caught up and walked with me for a bit before bolting off for the finish line. 

I did manage to finish, eventually. Mrs Notthat had finished 25 minutes earlier, and won third place in her age group. The Endorphin Dude survived the grilling and had a sub-3 hour finish time - an impressive accomplishment on this course.

I was REALLY tired and wanted to lay down. (It looks like I'm grimacing in pain, but I'm actually laughing since nobody could figure out how to get my camera to work.)

Last weekend's race was shorter (10 miles) but had a lot more climbing and about the same amount of heat. But the San Jose heat is different than the Mt Diablo heat, and it seemed to have a larger impact on me. I didn't feel like I was sweating as much, but the sweat lines on my shirt would beg to differ. I did pretty well with taking my salt caps, but I think I should have taken them more frequently as it warmed up. (I took one SaltStick cap every 30 minutes, but still started to get some cramping the last  couple of miles if I tried to run. And I should have kept taking them once I finished since I started getting that tingly "I need electrolytes NOW" feeling after a bit of sitting around.)

The good news was that my stomach wasn't upset (not that I felt like eating), which was a nice change for a hot run.

Rocky Ridge is in four weeks. (Gulp.)

We won't be running any races next weekend and the following two weekends are flat road Half Marathons (San Jose Rock 'n Roll  and the Redwood City Oktoberun). Rocky Ridge is a bit frightening given my current conditioning, although if the heat holds off and I use the early start, I should be able to finish it before dark.


That's it - move along…

PS: You can see more of my pictures here.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Diablo is as mean as ever

Trail races that involve Mt Diablo are always challenging and never routine. I've been roasted, frozen, and nearly drowned there. And worn out. Always worn out.

Coastal's Diablo Trail Run is a bit unique because it offers you a chance to run (ha ha ha) all the way to the summit. The three short distances offered (4 mile, 10 mile, and Half Marathon) are simple out-and-back courses ("See hill, climb hill.") The longer distances (Full Marathon and 50K) also start by charging up Mt Diablo, but then wander around some other areas of the park before heading back. (Except the 50K, which goes back up the to the summit one more time - the views are just that nice!)

In my mind, the sweet distance is the Half Marathon - you get to go all the way to the summit, grab a fashionable rubber band to prove you made it, then fly all the way back down. (It is by far the most popular distance of this race.) Bragging rights for bagging the Diablo summit will get you much respect. (Bagging the summit twice for the 50K will get you some blank stares since that's just too hard to comprehend.)

We needed to get home early though, so Mrs Notthat and I ended up doing the 10 mile course. It has most of the climbing of the Half, but none of the glory.

At least the simplified course map was easy to visualize.

Last year we arrived about ten minutes after the race started. This year, we were in time to see the horror that was Ynnep's (not her real name) stuffed spider. (This is tarantula season on Mt Diablo. Seriously - this place throws everything at you!)

Ynnep and her spider won the Full Marathon. 

That's Mrs Notthat dropping her pants for all to see… another pair of pants. It was a bit cool at the start,    so she had on at least three layers of pants and four layers of jackets and shirts.

One surprise was seeing Hteb and Nairb (not their real names). I did the Half at this race last year with them, and none of us learned a thing and all came back. Nairb had been sick all week and ended up settling for the 4 mile race while Hteb got her rubber band and the glory that comes with finishing this Half.

Another surprise was seeing Coach Luap (not his real name) out to do his first race in quite a while. Man, he knows how to pick 'em.

The first three miles were pretty shady. I looked forward to returning this way, knowing this shade would feel great. (And completely forgetting that, as the sun rises, shady bits become sunny bits. It was quite sunny when I came back through here later.)

A great moment was passing The Endorphin Dude (who was running incognito) and Htenaj (not her real name) - this will will likely be the only time I get to do that. And it wasn't long before the shock wore off them and they passed me back.

I was pretty sure Mrs Notthat was way out ahead of me, but as I got closer to the 5 mile point - our turnaround - I was surprised I hadn't seen her coming back at me. Finally, there she was charging down the mountain. She loves downhill, and now had 5 miles of it to enjoy.

Shortly after I saw her, I was at the aid station and the turnaround point for the 10 mile course. The summit is only 1.5 miles from here, but they are a tough 1.5 miles. I smiled and started back down the mountain.

By this time the sun was out in full force. And Luap was still looking strong storming up the hill.

I had hoped for a sub 2:30 finish, but the heat and that hill had taken their toll and I settled for a sub 3:00 finish.

Mrs Notthat won a legitimate first place age group medal (she actually beat someone in her age group), and Occor (not his real name) won a legitimate third place age group medal. I won an illegitimate third place medal since I beat nobody in my age group. But my medal was still just as shiny.

Note my bib number - that's probably why I wasn't carried off by a tarantula.
That was challenging but fun. The runners finishing the longer courses are all rock stars. There were quite a few DNFs, and likely a number of people changed their race to a shorter distance. The trails were tough and the heat made them tougher. The volunteers at the aid stations were angels and I'm sure they were HUGELY appreciated as the day wore on. (Many stayed later than originally planned to allow as many runners to finish as possible - that was a classy move Coastal; thanks!)

And Mt Diablo laughed and lives to challenge us again.

That's it - move along…

PS: You can see more of my pictures here.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

"World Famous" indeed!

A long time ago I looked into possibly making a living writing articles for magazines. Once I realized that almost nobody actually made a living writing articles for magazines, I chose to stick with my day job.

But I still liked the idea of getting printed in a glossy magazine - there'd be no fortune, but the fame and glory would be great.

Just after the Brazen Dirty Dozen event, Mr Brazen subtly poked me about possibly putting something together for Ultrarunning Magazine. Ultrarunning Magazine is unique in that the majority of its pages are filled with stories, pictures, and results provided by reasonably average people about some ultra race or other. I love the magazine and enjoy reading the articles about races - I especially love it when there is an article about a race I have some sort of connection to, whether running it, working at it, or knowing people who ran it.

And of course, the hugest thrill is seeing my name in print for finishing an ultra. (This does not happen very often though.)

The prospect of actually getting an article published easily dwarfed that huge thrill though.

So I sat down and tried to write something up. It generally takes me one to two hours to write up these race reports,* and I figured this would be about the same.

It wasn't.

It took me more than twice as long - I was more than a bit worried that my attempts at humor would go horribly wrong, that I would get some key fact wrong, or would violate so many basic grammar rules that I would get a return email with a link to some book on remedial writing.

But what REALLY took a long time was picking out the pictures - that was surprisingly hard. Do I play favorites and only send pictures of Mrs Notthat? Only pictures of and from people I know? Making it more challenging was that there were so many pictures to choose from. In the end I chose ten pictures (three were printed) that I thought showed off the various bits of the course the best, and made sure to include some with the Dirty Dozen winners.

Then I sent it all off and waited to hear. It took a bit (I was like a kid waiting for his propeller hat to arrive after he'd saved up a bunch of boxtops), but I finally got an email confirming they had received my email, followed a few days later by an email confirming the story would actually be published! I was thrilled, but still a bit hesitant to get too excited - I chose to wait until I had an issue in my hands before letting it go to my head.

And then it happened; while at work one day, I started getting emails from people congratulating me - the issue had hit the streets and the article was indeed in it!

When I got home, I unwrapped my copy (I love that they deliver their magazine in a plain white envelope - I don't need the neighbors knowing what I'm REALLY up to on those early Saturday mornings), opened it to The Article, and watched in horror as Mrs Notthat splashed pasta sauce on it. (Yes, the magazine was on the kitchen table at the time, and yes, Mrs Notthat was trying to eat dinner,  but I was just sure she wanted to read the article right away.)

A good question would be "So, how much of the article did they actually keep?" The answer would be 99% of it. They edited out one and a half sentences, changed a word or two, got rid of a few parenthesis (I tend to use a lot of them), and gave it a much better title than I had come up with. The magazine has a page with writing guidelines, and I followed them reasonably well, including how to refer to 5K and 10K distances (5 km and 10 km, respectively). Which they changed to 5K and 10K.

I'm hoping to get more chances to submit articles - now that I've been through the process and am a grizzled veteran, I had one of those thoughtful portraits taken that grace the inside of a book jacket.

I promised I would not let this go to my head.

Good thing I'm used to dealing with uphill struggles.

That's it - move along…

*The writing takes an hour or two. Sorting through the pictures (including putting a bunch up on Facebook with snarky comments as well) takes two to three hours sometimes. So the whole process takes maybe four to five hours. Including potty breaks.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Boy has a thunderstorm

The Boy and The Big Wind are taking the Big Step later this month. That means the women need to get together and throw a shower.

Mrs Notthat is giving me the "Why are you still here???" look while they finish decorating.

I took The Boy, his future father-in-law (Semaj, not his real name), and a few of The Boy's friends to have a bit more fun. More like a thunderstorm.

We started by heading to a place called GoKart Racer in Burlingame. It was the first Sunday evening of the NFL season, so I had hopes that it wouldn't be too crowded.

I guess people that like to drive gokarts are not NFL fans, since they only had four seats left (two in two different races) for the rest of the evening. And there were six of us. I had no problem deferring - I was not looking forward to folding myself into one of those noisy things, and loved the excuse not to have to do that. And as it turned out, the second person to get left behind was chosen by default, since he had failed to bring his drivers license with him. (On the off chance that you take a wrong turn and end up on the city streets, they require you to have a drivers license.)

Iines (not his real name) helping me drink sodas and try to spot the others on the track.
The Boy and his future FIL hanging out by the women's locker room. They might have some explaining to do when others see this picture.
To race, you have to wear a stylish jump suit and watch a safety movie that lasts nearly as long as the actual race. Seriously.

The Boy and Semaj went first.

The Boy either waving at us or signaling a left turn.
Once they had their helmets and such on, it was really hard to pick them out as they scooted around the track. And with the reflections off the glass, it was impossible to get a decent picture. So you will have to trust me on who is in these (although I'm actually guessing on a couple).

I'm pretty sure that blur is Semaj.
Racers get to go around the track for 15 minutes, making from 9 to 12 laps. Nod and Mailliw (not their real names) went next.

I'm pretty sure this is Nod. He ended up being the fastest of the group.
I'm going to say this is Mailliw, but that's mostly a guess.
Once that was done we headed out for pizza.

Mailliw and Iines.
The Boy and Semaj.
 We ate at the unlikely named North Beach Pizza in beautiful downtown (and beach-free) San Mateo.

The clam pizza was a surprise hit.
And that was about it. We managed to kill off enough time that the shower was done by the time we got back to the house.

Yes, these are adorable. That's why we had clam pizza instead.
It was a fun evening. The women apparently also had a good time.

The Big Wind and her mother Anomar (not her real name).
And now we are in the home stretch. The wedding is going to be tiny, even by my standards. There will likely be an obnoxious reception later though.

Maybe with more clam pizza. (Although those swan cream puffs are looking pretty good now too.)

That's it - move along…

How to DNF at D-N-F

This was my third year running the Brazen Drag-N-Fly trail race.

You'd think I'd know better by now.

There was talk before the Brazen Bear Creek race about which of the two was harder: Bear Creek or Drag-N-Fly. While they are both tough, I voted for Bear Creek being a bit harder. Now that my memory has been refreshed, I might have had that wrong.

The Drag-N-Fly Half Marathon course is a lollipop. (I like to picture the course as a simplified stick figure, which is easier for my simplified mind to deal with late in the race.)

I know of at least two runners that had an issue with the direction of the loop. (The green arrows on the elevation chart  show where the aid stations were.)
The stick part of the course is very exposed. When you head out early, it's not so bad, which is good since that's when you make one of the most difficult climbs. When you come back later, it's much hotter, but the climb is easier.

The lollipop bit is the fun part of this race. And also by far the most challenging part of the course. You have three significant climbs, some of which are on some tough, rocky single-track. You can make up some of the time coming down those hills, but a lot of that downhill is very difficult to walk on, let alone run on.

Would it kill them to plant a few trees out here?
The course starts out fairly gentle.

If you look hard you can see Mrs Notthat actually enjoying the heat.
That's the first big hill we have to get over. Being able to see it laid out in front of you so clearly tests your determination. (As I was slogging up it, I looked back down and saw the 10K runners heaving a sigh of relief that they didn't have to follow us up this hill.)

But before we head up that hill, we get some advice from Drannyl (not his real name); "Please don't make me go up that hill to scrape your melted carcass off it when you return."

Weird Haired Mom taking pictures as grateful runners finish coming down that first hill.
Early in the race, you get a bit of a break when you head down the other side of that hill since a lot of it is still in shade. And then you are done with the first pass at the stick part of the course.

WHM took this picture of Mrs Notthat flying down the hill. 
And this picture of me not flying quite so much.

And if you are fortunate, like me, your granddaughter will be waiting for you at that aid station.

"What took you so long? Grandma came through here 20 minutes ago!" (She was actually only 7 minutes ahead of me. Might as well have been a month though.)
And your grandson too! It  took me a bit to escape this aid station since I needed to see a new stuffed owl and some other miscellaneous things they wanted to show me.

The lollipop part of the course has some boring bits (including an odd stretch of pavement), but it also has some wonderful bits. A-Squared is showing her enthusiasm for one of the wonderful bits.

And then we ran into these two counter-clockwise challenged runners that like to lick their lollipops backwards.

And some more wonderful bits. A-Squared is muttering things wildly unsuitable for a family blog post.

A bit later, I heard a grizzly bear enthusiastically crunching a runner's bones up ahead.

It turned out to be the volunteers at the third aid station (mile 6.7 or so) crushing their empty water bottles.

A cloud! Come on little cloud, you can do it! Grow and give us some shade!
Shortly after leaving that aid station, you are at the top of the biggest hill on the course. Finally. The clear weather meant that great views were everywhere.

Yes, that's the trail through there.
It's at this point that the elevation chart gives you hope of being able to do the "Fly" part of the race's name. And you really can, mostly. But there are several stretches like this that make any kind of flying unlikely.

Finally I made it back to the second aid station, making it the fourth aid station (mile 9.9). And the home of the 11:00 cutoff.

Before the race started, Mr Brazen announced that there would be a 11:00 cutoff at the third aid station. I remember when he said that that I thought it wasn't right, but I couldn't remember why I thought it was wrong. (I later looked at the pre-race email and saw that it clearly stated the cutoff was at the fourth aid station, mile 9.9, and that was why I knew what he meant.)

I wasn't worried - I figured I would make any cutoff with no trouble.

As A-Squared and I trudged up to the third aid station, we talked about the cutoff and whether it was at the third AS or the fourth. I asked Nad (not his real name) at the third AS about it and he knew nothing, and since that aid station is not accessible by car, it seemed very unlikely that they would hold runners there.

By the time I finally pulled into the fourth aid station, I had forgotten about the cutoff. But seeing some runners hanging around worried me, and sure enough, I was about 20 minutes past the cutoff.

WHM had left the station to get cell service, confirm the cutoff time, and let the finish line know that there were going to be half a dozen runners needing a ride back. The aid station people offered to let me keep going, and I seriously considered it.

I was tired, and my stomach was a bit unsettled (heat and I do not play nice together), but otherwise I was fine and could have easily finished. I chose to stop for a number of reasons:

• I was well after the cutoff. Four runners ahead of me had already been stopped.
• I had already done the fun parts of the course - all that was left was 3.7 miles of hot sun while retracing my steps back to the finish. Ugh.
• I didn't need this race to satisfy the Rocky Ridge requirements.

So I chose to just stop and respect the cutoff. And watch what happened when A-Squared came through.

A-Squared needed to finish this race to qualify for the Rocky Ridge Ultra Half Series. There were not nearly enough volunteers here to stop her - I knew she would keep going no matter what.

I had not seen her for a while - she had been struggling up the hills, but when she came flying through, A-Squared looked great and VERY determined. Of course she was going to keep going.

She was warned that the next aid station might not be there (with only 3.7 miles left to go, that wasn't too big of a deal) and that the course markings were being picked up, so it was possible that she would have to follow trails by memory (which also was not a big deal since the course was pretty straightforward from here and we had already been on it once).

I considered going on with her, but I've been with her at the end of a tough race before and doubted I would be able to keep up - when she smells the finish line, she becomes a dynamo.

A bit after A-Squared left, the sweeper came in, clothed in course ribbons. A key for A-Squared would be to keep ahead of the sweeper.

If you look hard, you can see her most of the way up that last big hill already.

Our ride showed up and took us to the finish area just in time to see A-Squared come steaming in, ahead of the sweeper. She was beat. But she finished and is now qualified for the Ultra Half Series.

Photo by Brazen volunteer. Highlight effect patent pending. (I love it!)
When Mrs Notthat came through the fourth aid station, ahead of the cutoff (ahem), Grandkid Firstborn joined her to finish the race. This was not a trivial finish - it was 3.7 tough miles. (She also ran a 5K the next morning. The kid is really getting into this running thing!)

Brazen offers an early start for most of their races, giving slower people a chance to finish along with other runners. I did the early start last year and had thought about doing it this year, but I got lazy. This race is located near Antioch in Contra Loma Park (Swedish for "Trees? We Don't Need No Steenkin' Trees").  It takes us 90 minutes to drive there, which would have meant leaving the house WAY earlier than I wanted to.

In retrospect, that would have been the right thing to do though. And it's what I will do for Rocky Ridge.

This is my third DNF in three years, and the second due to missing a cutoff. Having volunteered at a number of races, I understand why there are cutoffs - it's not good to make a bunch of volunteers stand around waiting for one or two runners that are going WAY slower than the other runners. And having to make that fourth aid station, mile 9.9,  in three hours is reasonable. I was surprised and bummed that I was so far past the cutoff. But that's where I'm at right now, training-wise.

The race was a blast. It was not as hot as previous years, but it was still very warm. All the volunteers were awesome (as usual), and there were a lot of paparazzi out there.

And I managed to actually see several dragonflies! Take that Bear(less) Creek!

That's it - move along…

PS: You can see more of my pictures here.