Saturday, July 27, 2019

"Summer" Golden Gate trail race - where's the heat?

As I get older, I am becoming more reluctant to get up early to drive to races with early start times.

There are MANY races in the Marin Headlands, and it's not hard to understand why - there are several natural staging areas with parking and many fantastic trails. Trails that are also popular with locals and tourists that are more interested in the views and a peaceful outing than whether they can get a PR on a treacherous downhill bombing run. This can lead to conflicts, although most often everyone seems to coexist fairly well.

The park services though (this area is run by several different ones), have decided that starting the races earlier will get the runners off the trails earlier (that checks out) and make the trails a bit more welcoming to others later in the day.

When I saw that Coastal's Golden Gate race started at 7 AM, I decided I wasn't interested. It's a one hour drive to get there, which meant waking around 5 AM, which is a time my old, reluctant self is not interested in seeing.

But then Not A Canadian started talking to Mrs Notthat, convincing her that getting up at 5 AM can be fun. She even offered to drive. So I was dragged into the race, maybe not kicking and screaming, but at least frowning and sighing heavily.

NAC and I decided to run the Half Marathon while Mrs Notthat ran the 5M loop.

Modified course due to PG&E work.
PG&E (motto: "Ticking People Off Since 1852") has been doing something (NOT installing escalators) on some of the key trails used by many trail races in this area, so the course had to be modified a bit. Well, a lot. The overall affect on distance and the amount of climbing you had to do for the main loop was minimal, but it added some challenging course marking/monitoring to make sure runners stayed on course.

Those smaller climbs near the end felt a LOT taller than that.
I've run the standard course a couple of times, so I was actually a bit excited to get to be on a few trails I've not been on before. I also tend to like out-and-back bits since they allow me to see runners ahead of and behind me. And I can always use a nice rubber band.

One thing we didn't have was sunshine. The start/finish was at Rodeo Beach (motto: "No Bull Riding, but Wow Do We Have Clowns"), and was just a bit under the thick marine layer covering the area. It was cool, but not really cold. That was saved for once you climbed up into the marine layer.

The first climb starts almost immediately.
NAC and I started together, but I was shocked to find that we were much closer to the front of the corral than I'm used to. (But what NAC is totally used to.) Shortly after we headed out, with me running faster than I should have been, I was able to pull over and let the majority of the runners go by while I took my proper place at the back of the pack.

The gun barrel points the way.
We didn't climb much before we were in the marine layer, where it was much cooler and very moist. The good part was that the coolness really didn't feel bad since the climb had warmed us up a lot.

Those stairs are not OSHA compliant!
A good thing (maybe?) about the marine layer was that you really couldn't see how much climbing you had left - the trail disappeared into the mists and you were allowed to imagine it started downhill at that point. (It didn't. Ever.)

The sun struggling to burn off the marine layer. The sun losing. The climb never ending, no matter what it looks like.

All distances start with the same climb. At this point, the 5M runners are done climbing and can head back to the finish on a glorious downhill. All other runners turn left do a bit more climbing, then head down to the first aid station. Also glorious downhill, but we all have a second big climb in our near future.

"Which way do I NOT go?"
Just before starting the long downhill to the aid station, there was an intersection that normally is not a big deal for the runners, but due to the course change, it could be a bit confusing, and was worthy of a volunteer to make sure we all headed the right way. (We would essentially make a loop and end up back here, on a different trail. It would be sad to mistakenly make a wrong turn and do that loop again.)

The Tennessee Valley aid station, view from the glorious toilets.
Getting to the first aid station at about mile four was awesome for the normal reasons (food! hydration! encouragement!), but also for a bonus reason - this one had a couple of toilets, and I really needed one. I lost some time in one of those toilets, but my comfort afterwards made it well worth it.

Back up into the marine layer.
When you left that aid station, you immediately started up the second big climb - the infamous Marincello trail. It's a long, consistent, fairly mild uphill. Real runners can run up it (and many of those real runners, running one of the longer distances which included a bonus loop,  passed me as I slogged up it). I dream of one day being able to run up this thing, but at this point, a power hike is what I had to settle for.

Wait - is that real sunshine?
About halfway up that climb, the sun made a brief appearance, finally justifying the sunglasses many runners had been carrying all morning.

It didn't last.

Back to the marine layer. (And nearly done with the second climb! Maybe!)
"Which way do I go?"
I finally made it back to the course monitor and now had a nice, long downhill stretch of trail.

Eventually I made it back down near sea level and out of the marine layer. We were on the 5M course, but this is where we turned off of it and started the bonus out-and-back bit.

"Hi there Saile, not your real name!" He was a bit over a mile ahead of me, heading back with his coveted rubber band.
Pick a color - any color. Maybe.
An amusing thing (to me) was that this guy asked if he had to grab a specific color of rubber band - I said it just had to match his shirt color, which caused a brief bit of consternation before he realized I was not someone to be trusted. How he avoided taking a swing at me, or at least making a rude gesture, I will never understand. (For the record, I picked one that matched my shirt nicely.)

"Hi there Htebazile, not your real name!" She was running the 30K, and while she was almost a mile behind me, she had also run about five more miles than I had. Would she catch me? (Duh.)
The second (and third, kind of) aid station and Bermuda Triangle Quadrangle, about mile 10 and 11.
The second aid station was a bit confusing, with runners coming in from two different directions and heading out in two other different directions. The first time you hit it, you were to make a left and do a one mile loop. The second time, you also made a left, but this left pointed you to the finish.

Of course the little loop had a hill.
"Hi there again Htebazile, still not your real name!"
As expected, it didn't take long for Htebazile to catch up to me. (Note: She had ended up second overall in the previous weekend's Brazen Dirty Dozen, with well over 60 miles in 12 ours. That she was even standing up, let alone running a 30K was astonishing. Passing me was not astonishing at all, other than the trick of me getting ahead of her in the first place.)

Ah! Rodeo Beach ahead!
The race finishes with a fairly flat sprint (ha ha ha) along the road.

NAC and Mrs Notthat encouraging me to go faster.
Mrs Notthat had finished her 5M races hours ago, and since I didn't see NAC on the out-and-back, I knew she was WAY ahead of me and also finished long ago. They were huddled in the car for warmth as I trundled by. "Hurry up geezer!" It was nice to get some final encouragement.

At least I got this nice picture of me for all my grief.

Picture by NAC. Weird grimace/grin by me.
The finish! Finally!
I wasn't sure what to expect as a finish time since it had been a long time since I'd run a hilly Half. I figured anything less than four hours would be OK, but I really wanted to be under 3:30. Maybe 3:15?

Ha! Not today. I ended up with just under 3:34 - honestly not bad, but a bit disappointing. The toilet break didn't help, but it also didn't set me back enough to cause me to miss that 3:30 goal. On the positive side, my body was fine (if a bit soaked - I sweat a lot anyway, and spending so much time in the clouds just makes me even wetter). It was fun to push myself a bit.

The medal and bib.
In the end, it was worth the early wake up to run this race. Mrs Notthat did awesome (as always) in her 5M race, but just missed out on an age group award (she missed third by 66 seconds and second by 70 seconds!).

It was fun running on new (to me) trails. I missed the amazing views you are normally rewarded with at the top of the climbs, as well as the great view of the Golden Gate Bridge you get with the normal course, but it was nice to do something a bit different.

A huge thanks to Coastal Trail Runs and all the volunteers that helped make this a great event!

That's it - move along…

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Dirty Dozen turns ten!

In 2010, when the Brazen Brain Trust (BBT for short) decided that spending a whole day at Point Pinole was a good idea, Mrs Notthat and I rolled our eyes and said no. (That first year, they did not offer the "Dirty" distances like they do now. They did have the twelve and six hour options and teams like now though - we could have done that easily.)

Some race details

Simplified course map. 
The basic idea of the race is that you run as many of the big loops as you can in six or twelve hours. For the last hour, you get to run the small loop. (Partially run loops don't count, so you really don't want to be caught out on the course when the horn blows.)

That runner was that close to finishing a little loop when the horn sounded.
The length of the loop made it easy to add 5K and 10K races that run near the end of the six and twelve hour races. Some run both, and even add a Dirty race to a timed race just to get the bonus shirt and medal.

NotThat history at this race

I've mostly regretted skipping that first race since there is a lot of glory in being able to say you've participated every year. (OK, "a lot of glory" might be a bit strong, but for many of us, it's actually "a LOT of glory.") I've been to all nine events since then, and Mrs Notthat has been to eight.

Mrs Notthat has run the twelve hour solo twice, the twelve hour as a two-person team twice, and the Dirty races (5K and/or 10K) four times.

Six times I've run the twelve hour solo (once taking advantage of the rule that you really only have to complete one lap since my knee was a total wreck). Twice I've run one or both Dirty races.

The thing I had never done was run as a team, so that's what Mrs Notthat and I did as Team NotThoseLucas.

One thing I've done twice now is signing up for a twelve hour race but showing up late - getting there at 7 AM means leaving home at about 5:30 AM, and in my old age, that's not as much fun as it sounds. Showing up late means you likely won't win (ha ha ha), but you can still get as many laps done as possible.

Note: If you decide to do this, do NOT cross the timing mat under the arch when you start your first lap. Stay away from the arch and start your first lap a few yards from there. Your first lap will have an absurd time since it is based on the race's 7 AM start time.

Race expectations

I'm not in great shape, and I had no idea how my body would deal with running a lap, then sitting around eating and visiting while Mrs Notthat ran a lap. Mrs Notthat has not run more than a 10K for well over a year - it was unknown how many laps she would be able to get with her body able to do a bit of recovery after each lap.

Realistically, I figured three laps for her (just under ten miles - her longest distance in over a year) and I would try to get four laps (basically a Half Marathon).

I underestimated Mrs Notthat by a fair amount - if it hadn't gotten windy and cool towards the end we might still be there running laps. (No we wouldn't.)

This chart sounded like a good idea when I put it together, but it's not easy to work out. That's the races Mrs Notthat has run since 2015. 138 of them. Click it to see it bigger, but I'm not sure that will really help.

The race (finally)

The race officially started at 7 AM, but we arrived a bit after 9 AM.

Picture by Yloy (not her real name, but close!). 
We had one bib on a belt that we had to pass off between each other. (The results do not reflect who ran which lap, so for bragging rights, you have to keep track of that yourself.)

Mrs Notthat ran the first lap, starting around 9:31, and since we started late, she got the credit for the longest lap (3:16:43!) - in real life that was almost for sure the fastest lap for our team.

From there, we alternated turns.

Running along the shoreline.
Running through the trees.
The aid station.
The final ridge - you can see the arch, you can hear the music, you can smell the BBQ.
We have done many events on these trails, so we know them pretty well. If you are pretty sure running multiple loops will drive you crazy, this may be the course for you. There is a lot of variety - open exposed areas, densely forested areas, some minor hills (about 150 feet of climbing per loop), and mostly dirt/gravel trails with a bit of pavement, just because.

"Which way do I go Yllom and Nhoj, not your real names?" This is a tough gig to volunteer at since it lasts so long and has just enough complexity to make it interesting.
"Which way do I go?" Finishing a lap. It could get interesting when there were people finishing a Dirty race, a big loop, and a small loop - you needed to know which of those applied to you.
"What took you so long?" Passing the bib off to Mrs Notthat in the race's festival area. There were so many tents and awnings this year!
It was mostly sunny, but breezy, especially later in the afternoon. The cool breeze was not much of an issue when you were running, but when you were standing around waiting for your next turn, it could really cool you off and make you a bit chilled.

"Oh, you've done a race with a blowup arch? Cute." The scary thing is that I'm fairly certain that Brazen has several more arches they could set up. 
In the above picture, the farthest away arch was for the Dirty 5K/10K runners, the red one was for the big loop runners, and the blue one was for the little loop runners. Next year I'm expecting an arch for the BBQ line. Maybe another for the porta-potties.

Meanwhile, out on the course…

Mrs Notthat and Refinnej (not her real name) powering through a lap. Picture by Brazen paparazzi.
Clocky (his/her/its real name) sporting tight tights and inspiring runners out on the course.
Wait, what?
There were a number of "inspirational" signs along the course that were updated regularly. Weirdly, the NotThats were mentioned on one, and it took me a while to work out what it was saying (think a spelling-challenged "Luke").

"Hi there Nerak and Eibbed, not your real names!" Sisters, who live in wildly different parts of the country, talking about sister things on the trail. 
"Of course I'm ready for another lap! I've had hours to rest while you were out there!" Mrs Notthat thrived in this format.

Let's wrap this up

And that's about it. We started about two and a half hours late, and made up for that by leaving an hour and a half early (the cool breeze became an enthusiastic cold wind in the afternoon).

Runners in the timed events got a nice hoodie and a medal that doubles as a coaster.
I got my loose goal of a Half Marathon worth of loops (four), but the real star was Mrs Notthat who somehow ended up with five loops, nearly 17 miles! Looking at that chart from early on, you can see that this was the first time she had gone beyond the Half distance since early 2015! Being able to recover a bit after each loop really helped her go so much farther than I had expected. As a team, we came really close to the 50K distance, but held on to last place in the two-person teams with a firm death grip.

I'm not convinced I like the team format - it's great for socializing, and it's nice to get extended breaks, but restarting the legs got tougher for each lap.

An interesting thing about this race is that you would think, over the course of twelve hours, you would often see the other runners. In actuality though, because it's a fairly long loop, you can end up not seeing some runners at all, and that's one thing the team approach helps since you are spectating a lot of the time.

In any case, it was a blast and a lot of fun to catch up to so many friends, as well as watching the proper runners really pushing it to win their races. (A fun thing - the overall top finishers in the twelve hour solo event were women, each pushing the other to get one more lap done! The winner managed a bit over 66 miles! Wildly impressive!)

That's it - move along…

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Western States 2019 - Did you bring a puffy jacket?

Well, maybe not a puffy jacket, but at least a hoodie. For the first time since the abnormally cold year of 2012, I needed a jacket in the evening. It didn't rain, but it was overcast for a lot of the day. It was not hard to make a case for a puffy jacket.

For the ninth year in a row, I managed to weasel my way into the Last Chance aid station at the Western States 100 trail race. It's located at mile 43.3 in a remote area with no cell service.

There's not even a Starbucks.

It's all about the ice (not really)

A big change this year was how we got our ice. In the past, we would pick it up at the WSER warehouse in Auburn on Friday afternoon, drive it up to Last Chance, cover it with tarps and blankets, and hope for minimal melt loss overnight.

This year, they decided to drag an ice trailer up to Dusty Corners (the aid station before ours, about a 3 mile drive that takes a good 20 minutes), which would keep the ice nice and cold Friday night.

On Saturday morning, Amer and I headed over to Dusty Corners to pick up about 1200 pounds of ice.

Like Hot Potato, but with 20 pound bags of ice and numb fingers.
Amer working out how many frozen margaritas he could make with that ice. ("Almost enough" was the answer.)
Delivered, covered, and ready for the runners. Or margaritas.
The one thing we didn't know, was that it was going to be uncharacteristically cool, and we were going to have our work cut out for us trying to convince runners to take ice with them.

Just before the runners made it to us

Many of us spent Friday night at Last Chance, sleeping in tents or, as in my case, sleeping in our vehicles. The mosquitos were thrilled at all the company.

"This is the easiest espresso maker ever" said Bonnie as she performed a complicated set of operations that resulted in a small amount of what I was told really was pretty tasty espresso (foam not included).
Larry and Megan daring each other to use the Leaning Tower of Porta-Potties.
Whoever delivered the porta-potties thought it would be funny to place them on a slope. When you went in them, it really felt like they were going to tip over onto their back. Brave volunteers used science and some old logs to level them out so that the runners wouldn't have to deal with the possibility of a porta-potty-based DNF.

Pre-race meeting. "Since there's no place to plug in the blender, we won't be able to make margaritas." 
Most of the well over 50 volunteers at this aid station.
As we were taking the traditional group shot, we got word that the leader was already through Dusty Corners and would be to us earlier than ever before. Time to get the final touches done and open for business!

The runners at Last Chance

As is our recent tradition, the first runner was Jim, well ahead of last year's pace (which was well ahead of the previous year's pace, which was ahead of… you get the idea).

Jim going to get his bottles filled with Hawaiian Punch.
Jim is a big believer in getting as wet as possible before heading out to the first of the canyons. I suspect he would do this even if there were snow drifts across the trail.
And he's gone. Less than a minute total, but he got his bottles filled, ate a bit,  got soaked, and was gone. Very efficient, very impressive.
It was about eight minutes later that the second place runner, Jared, came in.

This thermometer is normally in the sun and normally well above 90ยบ. Not today - the warmest I saw it get was the low 70s. That made convincing some runners that there really was heat ahead a challenge.
Runners grazing at the all-you-can-eat buffet.
Some volunteers got quite a workout trying to keep up with their runners!
First woman runner, Courtney, was not getting brain work done, no matter how much it looks like it in this shot.
Last year we saw a few runners with hats that had a special pocket on top to hold ice - this year we saw a LOT more of those.

Megan: "You want ice shoved where???"
My favorite runner, the Pixie Ninja, getting wet before heading out to a third place finish!
Jesse from Let's Wander Photography stopped by briefly to get a few shots.
Emergency Backup Sam, aka John, getting his Popeye arms on. (He told me later that all the ice was gone by the time he  made it to the next aid station, Devil's Thumb, which is only 4.5 miles away.
Who knew pine needles could be so useful? (Well, maybe Bonnie.)
A problem we have always fought in the past, was that the area around the buckets would get muddy and we would have to shift them around to a dry area. Bonnie had the idea of gathering pine needles and spreading them over the mud, creating a mat that allowed the water to drain without the runners having to stand in mud. (I'm including this mostly so that I'll remember it for next year. It was a genius move.)

All Day Ken gets the most out of his sponge soaking.

Just before the cut off, the final runner came through and made it out before the Horn of Doom was sounded. Happily, no runners dropped at our aid station this year!

This signaled that it was time to start tearing down this oasis we had set up, and try to get to the track in Auburn before the winner made it. (We are very isolated, with no cell service, so we know little about what is happening in the race. It's always a dash to get to cell service, reconnect to the outside world, and get caught up.)

Sadly, almost half of our ice ended up getting released to the wild.

The mosquitos were puzzled. And sad that they had no place to plug in their blenders either.

Before we leave Last Chance, the signs

The trail just before the Last Chance aid station.
I decided to create a set of signs for the entrance to the aid station, and to try to make them in the style of the old Burma Shave signs.

Click any of these pictures to see them larger.
And then there were the signs for runners after they left the aid station.

General signs for all runners.
Oscar made a set of signs for some runners he knew in the race.
The signs I made for various runners, several based on requests and suggestions from others.
I always wonder whether runners see their signs, or whether those that don't have a sign are disappointed. This year I got texted this picture from a coworker (who I had never met) out of Singapore who took the time to take this selfie.

I really love this shot - thanks Reuben!

At the track

Once I made it down to the track (well after the first two runners, Jim And Jared, had finished in course record times), I noticed that the track was there, but the football field was missing. A chain link fence surrounded the inner perimeter of the track. This meant that the finish line medical area had to be moved from its normal position on the field. And to keep runners from running into each other, they actually were routed around the track in the opposite direction of normal (after a hairpin turn).

We were assured the distance was still 100.2 miles.
This was unfortunate since a lot of the overnight fun is hanging out on the field and chasing runners around the track. (Well, not me, but the herds of kids that are hanging around, playing frisbee, waiting for a parent to come in.)

View of the finish line from the stands. All that dirt makes it looks like there's going to be a rodeo.
First woman Clare has just entered the track and is about to make that hairpin turn to go around to the finish.
A herd of McKunes waiting for John to make it in.
Fortunately, you could still hang out near the gate the runners come in through, and along the wall on the outside of the track. I'm sure this configuration was a one time thing, and that next year the field will be open again. Most likely. I hope.

Meanwhile, the runners kept coming in to finish!

The Emergency Backup Sam, along with the Real Sam, came storming through the gate.
The herd of McKunes migrating around the track, just ahead of the Golden Hour - the last 60 minutes before the race ends. John did not want to be a 29er.
Reuben, from that earlier sign selfie, and carrying a Singapore flag, made it to the track with lots of time to spare. 

Wrapping up


What a weekend.

So much effort goes into to preparing for this race, and just like that, it's over. There were two runners that finished in the last 60 seconds, which made for an exciting end to the event.

The hurriedly packed aid station stuff that I had to haul back.
The cool weather put a unique spin on the race, but it was, as always, an epic experience. And exhausting. So exhausting (and I just have a relatively small part compared to so many that are involved with this race).

It's hard to explain why this event is so compelling for me - I often know at least a few people running it, and while I like to geek over the elites as they come through, the runners pushing the cutoffs are often the most interesting and fun to work with. You get a real appreciation for the effort and energy these runners are putting into this race, and a great understanding of what it really takes to cover 100.2 mountain miles in less than 30 hours.

But next time I WILL figure out how to plug in my blender.

That's it - move along…

PS: Here is a link to some pictures I put on FB: General aid station.