Sunday, September 25, 2016

Canyons 100k

May 2016

It's been a busy winter, spring, and summer, for various reasons.  I've written, but not edited, a number of entries.  I'm going to attempt to finish them, since I learn a lot from revisiting them.

Let’s run a 100k.  And let’s pick one of the hardest 100k’s around.  Why?  Because sometime last summer I wanted to sign up for something that I wasn’t sure I could finish.  I realized that I was starting to play it safe with choosing races and wanted to push myself further.  And I wanted something to motivate me to push running further, since I needed something to balance a very busy time in other parts of life.  And yeah, this turned out to be hard.  And fun.  And with perfect weather (light rain and 50s/60s).  I went in just planning to finish and enjoy the course, since I was pushing myself a lot further than anything I’ve run before.

First turnaround.  Aka Swinging Bridge.

Calm before the Climb.

About to climb up to Devil's thumb

The weather theme for the first half of the race.

Somewhere on the way back to Foresthill (the first time)

About training:  I followed this approach: hard stuff, weight training, cross training, and consistent milage early.  Endurance and mobility work at the end.  Mobility issues are often the biggest single annoyance I run into in ultras, as opposed to fatigue.  The 300 ft in 0.4 mile climb across the street from my house was quite useful.  As was the incline trainer, since I had limited hours.  A lot of speed hiking, including steep climbs (i.e. the Yosemite Mist Trail) with the kid on my back. Lots of hill and endurance repeats from Jan-March.  There was a couple month span of ~50 mile weeks, then slightly lower milage to focus on easy endurance, getting up to an 80 mile week (including hiking).

American River.

More American River.

What went well
* clean shirt in drop bag = best idea ever.  Most people recommend shoes.  I vote for a clean shirt.
* I power hiked hard hills really consistently for the entire race.  I’d add more 30%+ time or stair time if i were to go back.
* Increasing more solid food, particularly after 12 hours, worked well.

What could be improved
* I mostly hiked the narrow canyon-side single track trail after dark.  While I’ve run plenty of trails at night, this was outside my comfort zone.  A brighter light might help.
* The left hip was the mobility bottleneck.  I worked out a long standing deep knot a week before the race, which quickly caused all kinds of wonky side effects.  It’s in a lot better place than it has been for a couple years, but there’s more work to do.  This was also the first time I put deliberate mobility focus in before a race, and I ended up finding a lot of deep and subtle tight spots.  It's the kind of thing you wouldn’t even know about if you didn’t run very long distances.  The end result was that I had to take it easy on downhills again.   
* Muscle fatigue really kicked in around 45 miles.  Mostly hamstrings, hips, and quads.  That’s consistent with how Mokelumne went.

Other things to remember:
* If there’s ever drop bag access point after mile 50-something, put a tennis ball in it.  there was some muscle tightness in my foot that got really annoying.


Saturday, July 09, 2016

Oakland Marathon

March, 2016.

I thought it would be fun to drive down to downtown Oakland, so that I could run back up to our neighborhood, give my kid a hug, and then run back down to get the car that I left behind.  So I signed up for the Oakland marathon.  Also because I was itching to run another road marathon after being heat-limited at Vineman last year.

My view at the start.
Overall, it went well.  Coming into West Oakland, with the sun and lack of breeze in many places, I slowed down to keep a consistent effort that would last.  I ended up with a PR time of 4:12ish.  For me, marathons are a fun way to mix up my running focus for a while.  But what I really loved about this race was the diversity of neighborhoods it passes through, many that I've only driven through, and some that I've never even been to.

My view at the finish.
* Tailwind and clif cube thingees worked really well here.  They've been working well in other races, but this is the first time I've limited myself to them in a faster long race.
* Heart rate was really important again, especially on climbs and when I got too warm.  I'd adjust it to  a 165-170 based on how this race went.  I let it run a little higher this time.
* This race made it really easy to see family on the way, since it runs right through the farmers market we visit almost weekly.

* Everyone went out too fast in the first mile.  Even the pace groups.  This was the first time I've run relative to them at the start to set a pace, so I don't know if this is consistent.  Next time I should just go with what the watch says at the start.  It's rarely off by so much that I wouldn't be able to make it up if I paced right overall.
* I probably should have drank more water in the first half to be better prepped for the second half; overheating a little when the breeze died in West Oakland was my bottleneck.
* My right big toe started acting up in mile 26.  It had bothered me a little after a fast run earlier in the week.  I've since narrowed down the problem to a design change in the upper supports of one of the road shoe models I wear.  The support thing bends stiffly and repeatedly compresses the top of the toe.  Lightly and barely noticeably, but enough to really add up after a lot of miles.  I also noticed that running in them a lot leading up to this race reinforced some muscle tightness/form asymmetries, which probably contributed to this coming up on one side.  I'm switching to mostly Altras for a while since they always provide a good sanity check on form issues and make it easier (for me) to address them.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Mokelumne River 50 Mile

 April, 2016.

I found out about these trails by registering for my EBMUD trail permit a few years ago, and I was always curious about exploring them.  When I later found out about this race, which seemed like a great reason to explore them, it sat on my “should run this” list for a while.  The finish times are higher and the cutoffs are tighter than most 50 milers, so I waited until I was at a place where I’d be able to finish it well.  

The race starts deceptively flattish in the Sierra foothills, following the Mokelumne River along the Comanche and Pardee reservoirs.  It also passes through a mine for a short bit.  It’s the first time a 50 miler wasn’t the key race for a “season” for me, and I pulled back the pace a lot, expecting a hot day.  After the second aid station, the course changes to trails than turn the concept of flat into a distant memory.  Most of the 10,000 feet of elevation gain is in the middle 19 miles, missing the 50k course.  It’s also the prettiest part of the course, running along the south side of Pardee Reservoir.

My favorite moment was crossing a ridge where the snowy Sierra peaks were visible in the distance.  There were also wildflowers everywhere.  And stairs.  And repeated steep climbs.  And the field for the 50 mile course is small enough and spread out enough here that you really get to enjoy the course on your own.  It was hard.  It was fun.

I reached the turnaround in about 5:45, well under my expected time, but as expected, that wouldn’t last.  The afternoon got hot.  Having learned about that the hard way, I paced down to keep my effort under control, hiking all the uphills at this point.  My GPS watch checked out for a while here, so I watched how I felt instead of my heart rate.  To keep things entertaining, helicopters were brought in to collect water out of the reservoir for…something.  Maybe a fire, but it was interesting to watch them work.  Heading out of the hills, I passed one runner who was resting on the side of the trail.  He’d drop at the next aid station.  In the next stretch, I passed another runner in the same boat, but much worse off from what he was telling me.  I had extra water, so I gave him some.  He’d later finish.  In the last stretch, I kind of lost all energy to keep moving; heat does that to me, and it’s the first time I’ve run a 50 mile race where it was this warm this late in the day.  I hiked a lot of this and had two people pass me a mile from the finish, but I was done.

I finished in 12:58:40.  Slower than my last 50 miler by six minutes, but the course was closer to 51 miles, so that’s good enough to call an improvement.  Especially with the hot conditions.  One more interesting number is the ultrasignup percentage, which was higher than the other 50 milers I’ve run.  And also higher than any 50k I’ve run.  From that standpoint, it’s probably the best ultra I’ve run, relative to the conditions/course.

Things that went well:
* Staying hydrated, eating sparingly, and managing the heat.  I went with almond butter packets to try something more natural, and they worked well. I needed far fewer than expected, they went a long way.  
* Starting out slow and staying there.  I really watched uphill effort to avoid the muscle fatigue that I often run into.  It never really happened, with one exception.
* Only easy running and mobility work in the three weeks leading up to the race, this probably also helped with avoiding muscle fatigue.

Things that didn’t:
* I accidentally downed a bottle of not-my-usual-electrolyte drink at a water drop, thinking it was water.  My stomach felt off for the next 10 miles.  It did slow me down, but not enough to stop.  Note to self: even when really thirsty, taste test the drink before drinking a whole bottle. 
* My left inner hamstring had a deep knot that acted up.  I’d had a lot of deep muscle tightness worked out over the prior month, but I was’t aware of this one.  The muscle started pulling on the back of my knee on downhills, keeping me off balance and moving slower.  This one would need serious massage therapist work.
*  Addressing mobility issues allowed for an improved running form throughout the race.  One downside is that the shoes that have been working best for ultras over the last year and a half now create a lot of blisters.  I didn't plan to change them for my next race, since it would be too soon, but I since have.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Crystal Springs 50k

January 2016.

This was a storm race.  I like to have one good bay area winter storm race each year.  But you can't really plan them, especially since I need to reserve the personal time at home a little early.  This one lined up well.

Mud.  Rain.  Hail.  Climbing over downed redwoods.  More mud.  More rain.  More downed trees.  A park crew cutting up the downed tree on the way back. In the rain.

This was a very different ultra, both physically and mentally.  I got physically tired, but never had any muscle pain.  All the hard training leading up to TNF50 helped here, as well as getting back into hard training during the holidays.  I probably took the first climb too fast.  But I had some stuff in my head to burn out.

On the mental side, I never really tuned out.  I had a lot on my mind going into this, and it's the first time I haven't managed to clear it all out during an ultra.

I finished in 6:30ish, whatever it was.  That's not why I ran this one.  I also had a lower standing than expected for this kind of time (my fastest on a course of this difficulty), but there were a lot of distance drop-downs to avoid the far loop (and probably a fair number of no shows) given the weather.

Three things up:

* Incline trainer time really helped with hip climbing endurance.
* Training through a race worked well here, sitting at a consistent ~40 miles a week at the time.
* I ran with compression shorts for the first time on a long race--this worked much better than anything else I've tried.  Not for any compression benefit to anything performance related but to manage skin irritation.

Three things down:
* I let my heart rate run higher than usual for a while.  Probably not the best thing overall.
* I could have probably drank more water, but I didn't really see a bad affect from it.
* I dunno.  It was a pretty great race for what I wanted out of it.  I guess maybe the fact that I hadn't run a local 50k in 10 months; they're fun.  And I might not again for quite a while--I've been trying to balance among athletic goals a bit more since Spring 2015, which means I'm no longer compulsively running local 50k's.

Monday, December 14, 2015

TNF 50 #2

Sunrise at the End of the Miwok Climb

50 Mile Run #3.  And my second running of the SF North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile.  Overall, a harder course this year, bringing in more technical trails through Muir Woods.  The first half went great.  About halfway through, at the Matt Davis descent, some upper leg muscles started to get tight and pulled uncomfortably on my knees, so I spent the rest of the race managing this.  And the second pass through Muir Beach I was hiking downhills instead of running them, but having much better climbs.  I had a few good conversations in the second half, since I wasn't pushing for time at that point.

The weather was perfect, it had rained, but not heavily, the prior two days, leaving the trails in good condition.  CM and DL were both also running.  I finished in 12:52:44, losing about two hours in the second half, but still a PR by over a half hour, because every 50 miler I've run has had something new go wrong in the second half.  It's kind of entertaining, since I expect it, but I never know what it will be.

Somewhere on an Uphill with Scenery

* Uphill training paid off well throughout the race, even taking some hills at my fastest times in the second half when I was moving overall slower.
* HR limiting worked really well, I never felt really tired, muscles tightness around my knees was the only real thing (besides some shoe issues that didn't affect my running much).
* The whole race was fun, even the parts that didn't go very well.  I never hit the really tired "when is this thing going to be over" moment that has previously come around miles 38-42.
* No water/nutrition problems at all.

* Whatever caused knee stability to go out on downhills via hamstring and hip adductor tightness. I'm still not sure what caused it, my best guess is the backloading of a lot of hill-specific workouts into the end of the year.  Maybe a longer taper was needed.  Maybe I needed to start this sooner.  Maybe both.  Food for thought for the next 50 mile.
* A couple annoying blisters in places I should have expected.  For future reference: pay attention to hotspots in the first couple runs while breaking in a new kind of shoe.  After they've long gone away in shorter runs, they can still crop up in an ultra.
* I had a lot of swelling two days after the race.  It went down after day 3.

Someone was excited, pulling last year's shirt out on her own.

Quarry Turkey 5k, Carrying a Toddler

I've been hiking hills while carrying MC a lot lately, in part to train for the late hills of the north face 50 mile, where everything tends to feels tired.  Carrying 25 lbs of toddler on a 20% grade feels about the same as the last couple hills in a 50 miler.  In doing so, we came up with an interesting idea: I'd carry her through a 5k, and PL, who only runs a few times a year, would try to beat us.

It was cold, but the turkey was out.  And it was a close contest--we were beat by about a 100 foot lead.  Maybe next year MC will do the kid's run.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Overlook Endurance Runs 50k

Aka Ann Trason’s race.  This one was fun.  Point-to-point, an area I’ve never run, and on iconic trails. It wasn’t an A race, but it was on my list to run for over a year.  Foresthill to Auburn, on a fair amount of the Western States course, and with great weather.  The two long downhills in the first section were a lot of fun, and a great place to test running improvements, since I haven’t run a strong ultra since March, nor have I run that long of a downhill stretch before.  And it was a new California landscape to explore, one I’m sure I’ll go back to.  The river crossing, near mile 19, was a comforting break from a harder effort race, with a well known volunteer seeing people off on their crossing.  Legs were tired and near done on the last long climb, a mix of running and fast walking.  Along the way, it was interesting seeing places I've heard about too many times.

6:15:06 finish, a 50k PR by 11 minutes, on a course with comparable elevation gain, but this time with almost no flat pavement to open up on (Chabot, with some paved trails, was the prior PR).  But other than getting physically tired at the end, it feels like 50k’s have really come together this year, and it’s now a matter of improving in them with more endurance strength on hills.  68/149 overall, and an hour under ultrasignup's predictive models.

First sun after a foggy start.

Foresthill Bridge

Things that went well:
* All the hard running/hiking in the Sierras in late summer/early fall is paying off well in terms of uphill running strength and uphill walking speed (faster than some people who were running).  Heart rate was rather low too, likely helped a lot by runs at altitude. 
* I consciously drank a lot more than I thought/felt I needed after the first couple hours, which was probably the right amount in the end.  Switching electrolyte drinks and mixing in water also worked really well.
* Mixing running/walking uphill based on terrain and heart rate mostly kept pace/effort in check, especially when people around me kept running uphill, many of whom I would see slow down later in the day.

Things that didn’t:
* Muscle fatigue in the last couple miles, all uphill.  A pacing side effect, but also something I opted to take the risk on, since it was the end of the course.  I’m considering focusing on hill endurance for the next while, given an upcoming 50 miler and a consideration to increase distance next year.   
* There’s something tight in my left quad and outer hamstring that I wasn’t aware of, which became a limiter in the last five miles.  I’ve been focusing mobility/massage work on the right side for the last few months, since that hip is tighter.
* Mildly tight soleus muscles.  Ok, that's an ongoing thing, so there's not much to complain about, but I can't think of anything else. 

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Granite Chief and PCT Trails from Squaw to Tinker's Knob and Anderson Peak

Finishing the South Shore Open Water Swim, I had the remainder of the day to explore more in the Tahoe area mountains, and I went out to complete the rest of the Squaw-to-Donner route.  Up the Granite Chief trail, then north on the PCT to Anderson Peak, where I had stopped when I covered the northern half.   It was very windy from Tinker Knob to Anderson Peak; I decided to jog/hike this easier-terrain stretch because there were some crazy gusts coming from the west, and well, there was also this very long drop just a few feet to the right.  Not the time to get caught off guard and go down.  I finished 18.5 miles, feeling much better than after my last few long mountain runs.  

Climbing the Granite Chief trail

Squaw Valley

Grant Chief trail looking east.

PCT, looking west.

Looking north toward the destination peaks, Mt Anderson, Tinker Knob, and Peak 8761.

Looking south from Tinker Knob

Peak 8761

Peak 8761.  Again.  It's just a cool spot.

Tinker Knob.

Anderson Peak from Tinker Knob.  Castle Peak in the distance.  It was crazy gusty up here.

Start of the American "River"

Looking east on the Painted Rock trail.