Saturday, December 28, 2013

Brazen New Year’s Eve Half Marathon

It seems like I just ran a race here.  Like last month or so.  Oh yeah, I did.  This weekend was Brazen’s New Year’s Eve half marathon at Lake Chabot.  

After a less-than-stellar morning awakening, I arrived tired, and unfortunately without enough sleep.  It was cold!  Lots of frost on the ground, but sunny.  After checking in and a brief stretch and warmup, we started the half.  It was a fairly large and energetic crowd too.  Recalling a number of runs here, we headed out on the east shored trail, which is paved for quite a while. It was far easier this time around, although my legs felt tired right from the outset, starting with my calves.  I picked up some new road-friendly trail shoes specifically for running races in this park, as my usual trail running shoes don’t handle pavement at all well.  This was the first time running a race with them, and it made the course overall much more comfortable.  Skipping the first aid station, we rounded the small hill loop before crossing the rather bouncy and oddly designed wooden bridge.  The bigger crowd made the bridge hard to run on, as I was in and out of phase with the bridge’s bouncing this time.  Different from my last race here, we then rounded a corner and headed straight up to the ridge.

Photo from Brazen.

I backed off running uphill a fair amount from this point, saving the tired calves for later in the race, as well as another event only a handful of days away.  At the top of the hill was the next aid station, and I grabbed a cookie and some fruit.  We then followed the ridge for a while, and the course made a number of switchbacks on this longest stretch of the course.  There’s a lot more uphill on this course than I had really paid attention to when looking at it, as there were a number of decent climbs along this stretch that added up.  We eventually dropped down to the stone bridge, which is the current end point of my long runs from home, and the course headed south up the ridge along the west side of the park.  

We came to the third aid station, and here’s where I needed a lot of water/electrolyte/etc.  We would be in sunlight for the rest of the course, which would be mostly the same as my last race here.  It’s a nice stretch of rolling hills on trail and pavement, along the west side of the lake.  The shallow water, overhead sunlight, and likely the time of year, made the water clear enough to see the bottom of the lake quite clearly from the course.  By this point my calves felt good, but my quads were just too tired to push my speed much, likely due to a hard bike ride on Friday.  Going out on a hard bike ride the day before a race is hardly the best idea for maximizing race performance, but I was antsy about getting a good ride in, since I had to hold back effort on riding for a couple weeks.  Priorities.  :-)  

There was a final aid station not far from the end.  Past this, I slowly picked up effort over the last mile or so, and finally picked it up to a good pace for the last whole tenth of a mile or so.  I finished in 2:33:27, decently six and a half minutes under my target time.  208/391—the entrants as a whole were faster this year.   I noticed the trend, since I pick my target times on non-flat trail races using the distribution of results from a prior run.  Again, another runner had followed me as a pacer most of the way; I seem to do that well.  

Snacks and ice cream and stretching and some cheering for more runners coming in, and it was done.  The course caught me nicely off guard on the amount of elevation--it's good to be surprised when you think you know a park.  In a switch from my expectation, the Brazen course had significantly more elevation than the Coastal course.  This half marathon had about 600 more feet of climbing than the 30k I ran here in November.  And having increased both my training volume and top race distance over the last few months, I felt great, although still tired, after the race was done.  Next time I’ll consider tapering a bit better.  Well, at least I say that now, but I also said that last week about this race.

Monday, December 23, 2013

25, 24

Monday 12/9Rode 9.7 miles along Skyline in 45 minutes.  I intended longer, but this was the week of frigid weather.  When I finished before 8AM, the temperature was 29 degrees.  And it was windy, blowing up to 30, it felt.  A few minutes into the ride, I turned down Skyline instead of heading out on Grizzly Peak, just o have the excuse to ride back up the hill so I could warm up on the way back.  I added a half hour swim at lunch.  It was still freezing outside, but the water in the pool was warmer than my office.

Tuesday 12/10.  Still freezing.  Ran about 6.5 miles out and back from Skyline, along the West Ridge trail, and back along the Baccarus trail in Redwood.  Many frozen puddles.  On and off the phone a lot, this run stretched out longer than intended.  I like these really cold runs though, especially on sunny days like this, I get a feeling of being more alive, kind of liking I'm rebelling against the weather.

Weds 12/11Swim speed workout, 1.6 miles.  Followed by a mile run.

Thurs 12/12.  Tired and cold, I hit the gym for a post-work fartlek run instead of the morning trail run.  5 miles.

Fri 12/13.  .8 mile IM swim and a 7 mile easy ride.  End of day.

Sat 12/14.  Miscellaneous cycling all over to get 17 miles in.  Dropped off the car for maintenance, rode up Pinehurst Rd. to get home.  Then back down later.  And capped it off with a few miles along skyline to watch the sunset.  Still very cold out, but warming.

Sun 12/15.  Woodside Ramble 35k/ 22 miles.  Took it mostly easy, until the last ~6 miles, which I went full speed at.  Perfect weather.  I was really tired the rest of the day, taking naps, watching bad tv, and going to bed early.

Mon 12/16.  Easy swim, .7 miles.  Light freestyle, breaststroke, kicking, pulling, and lots of stretching in the pool.  I find these easy swims the day after a hard run or race really help loosen things up.  Especially breaststroke kicks for loosening up hips and quads.  And the pool makes a number of hard stretches easier, in that I can suspend myself into them, using buoyancy to ease into a stretch more slowly than I could without it.  

Tues 12/1711 mile morning cycling on Skyline.  Rode from the end of our street to near the top of Grizzly Peak and back.  Slow going, legs were still tired.  Evening 5 mile treadmill run, alternating hill and speed intervals.  This felt strong, despite working out tight calves.

Weds 12/18.  An hour bootcamp with lots of leg work, followed by a 2 mile easy run.  At the end, my legs were beat.  Just plain tired at the end. 

Thurs 12/191.6 mile swim + pool stretching.  I finished the swim speed 11-1 workout.  I really like these, since they mix things up and usually push you to swim hard for at least part of each workout.  I bailed on a planned light run to let legs fully rest from running for a couple more days, as I had a long run planned for the coming weekend.

Fri 12/20.8 mile swim, IM + kicking.  Followed this with 45 minutes spinning while reading.  

Sat 12/21.  Long run!  18.7 miles through Redwood Regional Park, half of Chabot, and back.  I started out on the West Ridge Trail, and headed down the Tres Sendes Trail, followed by a run on the full length of the French Trail.  I run this section a lot, since it has rolling hills, which are good for approximately light hill intervals, while following single track through redwoods.  I crossed the ridge at the end heading down the Toyon trail to cross into Chabot.  

Into Chabot, I crossed up and over the big hill on the MacDonald Trail, running/walking intervals on the uphills.  It's really a ridge, but I think of it as a long hill.  At the end, I followed the Grass Valley trail south to the Stone Bridge for a short stretch break.  I then headed back North on the Brandon trail, followed my the MacDonald trail, alternating uphill running intervals with short fast-walking breaks.  Crossing back into Redwood, I followed the Golden Spike Trail to the park entrance, and then followed the road to start of the Canyon Trail, where I filled my water.  It was then a long set of mostly uphill running intervals with short walking breaks.  As the sun set, there was an awesome display of colors on the ridges heading out to the south, transitioning from shades of light blue through to dark pink, with a light pink sky in the back.  

The iPhone camera missed 90% of the color.

I mostly intended to take this one easy, but in hindsight, I think I pushed the first two thirds harder than planned, as it was feeling good.  The last long slow hill on the East Ridge Trail is where I really backed off, just to get the time in without beating myself up.  The end result of this is more tight calves, which is a sign of having pushed myself on the uphills, but much less tight than the prior week.  Feet were sore too, but my trail shoes are close to retirements.  These are good signs, since they’re both predictable.  The compression sleeves pretty much did away with all the quad wonkiness on these last few long runs, a great psychological relief, since that was a huge limiting factor for a long time.  Also, I never felt winded on this run, more muscle-limited, which is happening more and more often.

Sun 12/22.  Long Ride!  18.4 miles.  I find it amusing that my long run this weekend was longer than my long ride.  I’ve backed off on long ride distance for a while, since I rotate through the things I push on.  Longer swims were a focus for a while, followed by longer rides, but it’s running focus time.  The winter is great for longer runs for me, as the lack of wind provides the extra time the long runs take.  Anyway, it was warm, and I ride the usual route along Skyline and Grizzly Peak, into Tilden.  Lots of hill climbing, which I took slow and consistently to let my quads rest (relatively).  Another gorgeous sunset, this time with a pink sun!  I bailed on a followup short light run to let my calves rest a bit.  They’re less tight, more so tired now.  

All together, a very cold week followed by what’s mostly been a recovery week.  I like pushing myself a couple times during recovery weeks, in short bursts and much less consistently than normal, since it keeps things feeling fresh (whatever that means).  I decided to write this, since every long outdoor run or ride is a small story.  And every week is a story.  One of my aims for the upcoming collection of races is to get more organized and deliberate with training, and writing these stories helps me reflect on what’s been accomplished and what I might want to change.  Week 1 will be the end of this stretch of events.   

Monday, December 16, 2013

Woodside Ramble 35K

I was really looking forward to this race.  For a number of reasons.  Across the hill, in Purisima and El Corte de Madera, is where I was inspired to try trail running.  I always wanted to run these trails too, but I didn’t get around to it before we moved to the East Bay.  So it’s a return to my original trail “neighborhood.”  It’s also the only place I’ve gotten a ticket for running.  Back when I first considered trying a trail race, a race on a similar course was the first one I was aiming for, but again, that moving thing put it all on hold for a couple months.  I then got sidetracked for a year just exploring the trails close to our new home in the Oakland hills before finally getting into trail racing this year.  And I haven’t run a race in the peninsula yet, so it was high on my to-do list, and Inside Trail Racing’s Woodside Ramble caught my attention.  It delivered well.

I went into this intending to back off on speed a bit, as it’s the longest trail race I’ve run, at 22 miles.  I have a not-so-great history of killing my legs by running new distances too fast.  And coming off of two faster half marathons in the last month, I was just getting recovered from the follow up muscle wonkiness.  

Psychologically, I broke the course up, by aid stations, into four parts.  First, a long, gradual uphill in Huddert County Park.  Then a run on the Skyline trail, near the ridge line, to Wunderlich Park.  Third, the run back to Huddert County Park, and finally, a long downhill section.  The course was mostly in a Redwood forest, with a lot of canopy blocking sunlight, which is one of my favorite running environments.  

The race started downhill across a field, which would be about the longest open stretch of the course, until it entered the woods and turned through a notorious bottleneck.  I was far enough ahead that it only backed me up a few seconds, and we ran downhill for a mile or so.  Then we started a very long hill climb.  The next mile or so I alternated between running slowly and hiking fast.  The mile after this was mostly fast hiking.  I finally felt warmed up and went back to running/hiking intervals, making sure to hold back to avoid any muscle cramps that might cut short or make miserable the latter parts of the run.  This would pay off really well.  We went up.  And up.  And up.  And up and up.  And up.  As we hit the Skyline trail and the course flattened out a bit, I was able to pick up speed.  Coming over one hill, I found a well-read blogger out shooting photos with his daughter.  As much as I’m not the biggest fan of my own running photos, having photographers on the course is great; each time I pass one, I’m motivated to kick myself in gear, and I pick up speed for quite a while.   We came to the road and had a short, fast downhill to the aid station.  Today’s craving was oreos and tangerines; the tangerines were awesome, as they have the perfect burst of intense flavor.   

Crossing the road, the course went back into the redwoods, winding in and out of the myriad gulches along the Skyline trail.  I was keeping very close pace with another runner through almost all of this, as we alternatively passed each other, but kept each other in sight.  Eventually the 30k leaders came by, going the other way.  I’ve run trails at really fast speeds a number of times, but I’m in no way trained to keep it up for very long.  I’m always impressed and humbled to see the runners at the lead.  This section ended with a decent climb up to the next aid station, with more tangerines.  

Running back along this trail, I really started to zone out, which is a big part of why I run these long races.  Eventually the stuff to think that I didn’t have time to think about during the week gets all thought about and I get time to just enjoy the environment.  The first few 50k runners passed by.  The runner I was keeping pace with had to stop on the side of the trail, and I didn’t see him again until the end. And I didn’t see anyone for another 45 minutes.  So I just ran.  

I came back to the road, made the last aid station stop, took a fast hiking break up what was now a slower uphill, and then the long downhill stretch began.  I felt great, and with less than 6 miles to go, I pushed the pace to try to hit my not-so-serious time goal.  A few more 50k runners flew by, and I flew past a couple 35k runners, since I’ve gotten much stronger and faster on downhills lately.  A couple miles from the end, Sam from Brazen, who times these, went by running up the hill.  We had been warned about a final hill in the last mile, so when I came to it, I decided to just run up the whole thing, as the race was wrapping up, and I felt strong.  I passed another 35k runner walking up this stretch, finished the climb, crossed the road, and ran around the playground and across the bit of field to the finish.  

I wrapped up in 4:45:16, 16 seconds over my not-very-serious goal, which is perfectly close enough, since I think of my times on these longer runs with a granularity of about 5 minutes.  And it was a not very serious goal, since the bigger goal was finishing a new trail distance without an injury or weeks of muscle pain, which I succeeded in.  I ended up 24/48.  Ate some food, drank some beer, chatted a bit.  A number of other runners were talking about the North Face Endurace challenge the week before, which has caught quite a bit of attention.

On a side note, I tried compression sleeves, on both thighs and calves, for the first time on this run.  I won’t claim they made me faster, but they definitely helped avoid muscle tightness.  I picked the full set up after wearing a medical compression sleeve to train through a post-berkely-half really tight vastus medialis.  After wearing it though a 16 mile, 4000’ training run, the supposedly irritated quad was the only part of my legs that felt great after.  This time, at a much faster overall pace, nothing was sore during the run, and I’ve only had the expected tight calves since.  So I ordered another set of calf sleeves, to have around for recovery.

And a couple photos, the first running up the long hill and the second down the hill at the end.  Looking quite ridiculous this time, methinks.

Up next, another pair of half marathons on familiar ground before increasing distance again.

Friday, December 06, 2013

Change of Focus

The last couple races (Berkeley and the Quarry Turkey) ended a psychological chunk of races for me.  I go through phases of running, and this one was ready to be over, having started in August with the Tri for Fun.  This stretch was all about density, almost at a compulsory level, in that I ran and swam or had a tri more weekends than not.  It wasn’t intended, but a lot of it came from signing up for races if there was no other early morning plan on a weekend.  And we haven't been out of town as much on weekends lately.  Here’s everything in this stretch:

Tri For Fun Sprint
Cinderella Half Marathon
Corporate Challenge 3.5 mile
Malibu Sprint+ Tri
Drag-N-Fly Half Marathon
Tough Mudder
Alcatraz Swim
Dirty Dare 25k
Marin Olympic Tri
Chabot 30k
Berkeley Half Marathon
Quarry Turkey Half Marathon 

…in slightly over 3 months.  That includes six half marathon or longer runs, three tris, and on distance swim.  In this time, speed went up, distance went up rather comfortably, and I acclimated to just going out and running a half distance without much thought.  These were also my first triathlons, and while swimming stabilized in terms of knowing what I’m doing, cycling had a ways to go.  Especially on hills.  I hit a time goal at the Berkeley half.  And got electrically shocked seven two many times.  

I’ve rested the last week, which was needed, more for psychological reasons than anything else, and focused on stretching and working out muscle kinks.  

The next chunk of time will be aimed at three goals:  Big Sur Marathon, Hawaii 70.3 tri, and run a 50k.  I’m going to attempt to back off on the number of races, in favor of better endurance training, and using races more intentionally to get toward these goals.  And somehow I went from a vague notion of how to do this to a specific plan.  The Dirty Dare and Chabot 30k were the first parts of this, as well as working in more cycling time over the last month.  Here’s what the rest looks like:

ITR Woodside Ramble 35k (Dec)
Brazen New Years Eve/New Years Day Half Marathons (Dec/Jan)
Coastal Steep Ravine Marathon (Jan)
ITR Chabot 50k (Feb)
ITR Marin 50k (March)
Big Sur Marathon (April)
Hawaii 70.3 Tri (May)

The Marin 50k is the race that caught my attention and motivated me to get up to 50k.  I love running in Marin, but don’t do so often enough.   I added Chabot to have an easier course the first time at that distance.  And because there’s a small possibility an upcoming life event might make me need to back out of Marin.  Backtracking, Steep Ravine, the pair of New Year’s halfs, and Woodside all aim to progressively ramp up distance.  Woodside and Steep Ravine are on trails I haven't been on, but have wanted to run on for a couple years now.  And it looks like I will have compulsively run 4 races at Chabot in 4 months. It's relatively close to home, why not?

I expect Big Sur to be the hardest.  Road races beat me up far more than trail races, which is why I put the 50ks before it.  In comparison, the Berkeley half left me more sore than the 25k or 30k, the latter of which is about 50% longer.  It’s about the greater speed and more repetitive running on flatter courses, so getting the distance down on trails makes managing the roadness at the distance a lot easier.  Big Sur will be hilly of course, but not like most hills I’m used to. 

For Hawaii, it’s all about cycling and bricks.  I regularly run and swim well over the distances involved, but cycling’s got to go up 50% longer.  I’ve gotten up to 40 miles on the bike, but not comfortably.  I’ve backed off since then to increase distance more slowly.  This is one I’m still researching how I want to train for.

A lot of training reference I read aims toward peaking at certain races.  Since these are in part new distances, I’d mostly like to finishing them at a good effort.  But I’d like to beat my existing marathon times at Big Sur, since they’ve been quite not-so-good because of less planned training in the past.  And if I avoid major injuries, it shouldn't be too hard to do so.

I’ll probably add a bay swim in there if one lands at a good time too.  But otherwise Im going to try to behave myself and not sign up for anything else until after Hawaii.  But of course, I’m sure there will be some weekend or two where I need to break my plan for fun.  

That photo of trees above has nothing to do with these races.  I believe it's on the huckleberry trail, close to home.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Quarry Turkey

It’s back to Quarry Lakes for Brazen’s Quarry Turkey half marathon.  This is where they held this spring’s Bay Breeze, which was my second race of the year, as well as of my now-rather-regular series of races.  It’s also my first time running half marathons two weekends in a row.  Last week’s Berkeley Half took a decent amount out of me, and I was still loosening up a bit from it.  And having run two races rather hard in a row, I decided to slow down on this one a bit.

Since the course is the same as Bay Breeze (but Bay Breeze is usually elsewhere. I hear it’s normally somewhere close to the bay.  Close enough to feel the breeze.), I’ve seen parts of the course before.  Since I’ve upped my baseline run to half marathons, the out and back portion was significantly longer, but running along the arroyo made for a rather pretty suburban course.  I started a little bit fast, and backed off pretty quickly to a pace that was a minute per mile slower than the prior week.  And I held that for most of the course, speeding up a bit for the middle section and again for the last mile.  

The aid stations had pie!  I had to say no a lot.  Lots of bread-and-sugar-like-carbs don’t mix well with flat courses for me.  But it was enthusiastically offered again and again and again.

Quarry Lakes is a collection of…quarry lakes.  The immediate landscape reminds me of Gilboa quarry, where I was known to hang out many years ago when scuba was what kept me busy.  And it was a fun flat run, with a handful of small hills and dips.  And the giant turkey was happily hanging out with everyone.  I finished in 2:!2:07, 13 mins longer than last week, but 3 mins faster than my target time.

I usually don’t run this distance two weekends in a row, but this was good prep for the two-half-marathon-in-5-days thing coming up at the end of the year, which, unlike this course, will have some hills.  As well as for the progressively longer races coming up into the early spring.  

Berkeley Half Marathon

The Berkeley Half Marathon was originally my one half marathon for November (which turned into 3 in a compulsive need to add a couple more races).  I intended to push my time on this one, to see if I could get under two hours.  It was the inaugural race, put on by the same organizers as the San Francisco Marathon.

I had my long bike ride the day before, and I rod my bio to the race.  Both of these were working against me, but getting the rides in were more important than my time goal.  I treat my times as fitness measures, ways to challenge myself, and as fun numbers games.  Small things in the rest of life often win out over a strict effort to hit a time goal.  Although I’ve gotten better at tapering normal training runs in the week before races.  But for how many races I’m running this fall, this means every other week.

Back to the Berkeley Half Marathon.  I arrived at Civic Center Park and stowed my bike, immediately finding the Tough Mudder crowd, the first of many people I know who I would run into at this race.  I was less early than usual, so after stowing jackets and such, we went straight to the finish line.  I was in the third wave (2nd non-elite wave).  We started off around a multi-block loop over to U.C. Berkeley, and we then headed downhill along University Ave., zig-zagging into neighborhood streets here and there.  I started off a little faster than needed, anticipating the hill at the end and expecting to gradually slow during the race.  Around 4 miles in I settled into a more consistent 9 minute/mile pace.  

The course headed out across 80 and went south along the east bay shoreline frontage road, into Emeryville and turning around just before the building.  This would be the first of many out-and-backs along this trail.  We ran back north, crossing 7 miles before heading out towards the Berkeley Marina.  It was pretty steady going, in that I was constantly close to my limit for this distance (at least for that day), and I was well challenged mentally to hold the pace for the rest of the race.  

The course went out and around Ceasar Chavez park, which is one of my favorite running routes, although I haven’t run it much since last spring.  The wind-and-water drama I’m used to seeing here was replaced by nearly flat water, more normal for this time of year and this time of day.  We headed back in, back to the bay trail, before making at least three small out-and-backs on the gradual progression north.  On the less-than-great side, an ambulance was in the middle of the course, with paramedics treating a passed-out runner; I read later that he was hospitalized, but ok.

The course wrapped up by heading up the hill near Golden Gate Fields and dropped down the north side of the parking lot.  Being the end of the course, I just pushed hard up the hill.  I don’t think I slowed at all, in that I was more muscle-bound for most of the race than endurance-bound.  The final run down the hill to the finish was a nice end, since I’ve gotten much better at taking downhills with speed the last few months.  Crossing the finish line, I stopped to the side, and bent over to catch my breath for a couple minutes, which is for me a sign of having pushed myself well.  

I came in at 1:58:56, just under my goal.  Being the first time I’ve made a point to pace myself, it worked out well, and I apparently kept a pretty steady pace.  Another runner came up to me afterwords and said I was a great pacer, as he’d been following me most of the race.  I caught up with many people while recovering a bit, before heading out.  I picked up the bonus SF/Berkeley Challenge medal too, having run the SF Marathon this summer.  I ended up 1915 out of 4664, also inside an ongoing percentile goal I have.

Then there was the long line to get on the shuttle back to the start, as well as the long, very slow bike ride home.  Riding 1200 feet uphill after a hard 13 mile run isn’t the easiest thing.  :-)