Monday, December 29, 2014

The North Face Endurance Challenge SF 50 Mile

Some impressions from the North Face Endurance Challenge SF 50 Miler:

That was a hard race.  As my first 50 miler, the distance surprisingly didn’t bother me all that much; I kept a steady effort right to the end.  But two things caught me off guard and made this hard: the number of runners on the out-and-back sections, and the mud.  Lots and lots of gooey, squishy, shoe-sucking, slip’n’slide inducing, mud.  Many miles of it.  Maybe 20% of the course, or 40% of my time out there.  Trails I’ve been able to jog up and run down at full speed became slow, tiring negotiations in footing.

Around mile 33:
Hiking couple: How long is the race?
Me: 50 miles.
Hiking Couple: Jesus Christ!
Me: Nah, he’s not running today.  He’s smarter than that.  

SC is crazy fast.  He came down heather cutoff, chasing down DJ, shortly after I crossed paths with DL coming down--the latter of whom I thought was fast.

I ate much less food than I expected.  I just didn’t want it.  One and a half epic bars, half a kind bar, and about a slice of orange at each aid station, mainly to keep my stomach non-empty.  I upped the tailwind concentration to compensate, which worked great.  

I need better shoes for long muddly/techincal courses.  I have some that work great for short muddy runs, and others for long runs on drier days, which I was wearing, but nothing that was great for this course.  The mud was orders of magnitude worse than I expected too.

600 runners in the dark with headlights on open trails in hills is very surreal.  You see lines of headlamps flowing through the hills and large groups of glowing abstract shapes from all the retroreflective pieces on running gear.  

After finishing, I bailed faster than at any race, skipping the food/beer/etc.  I wanted to get back home to shower and rest more than anything.  I wasn’t even hungry, but I did force myself to snack on the drive home.

Recent running form practice made it far easier to maintain pace than at any 50k I’ve run.  It took conscious effort, but it made a huge difference.  

That was the slowest climb up Steep Ravine ever.  But I can’t think of a better place in Marin to hit a low point on effort.

Waterfalls!  It was the first time I’ve been running north of Pantoll Rd.

Only one unexpected muscle bothered me, the left tibialis anterior.  Everything else was expected and manageable, albeit annoying.  

It took half an hour of stretching to stand the next morning.  Then another half hour of stretching to walk.   

I can see why people move up even further in distance:  1) Night running was surprising fun and peaceful.  2) After mile 20, nothing really got any harder.  

Instead of counting miles, I was counting half marathons.  This dejected a few people I talked to, but I find it a lot easier to have fewer mental chunks of distance to think about.  

I finished in 14:09:26, way near the back, so I certainly got my value out of the day.  After the second pass through Muir Beach, where I fell back to only 10 minutes ahead of a cutoff after a very slow negotiation down Coastal/Heather Cutoff, I started mostly passing people on the last couple climbs.  I never hit a mentally hard moment, but saw a number of people in this last stretch who were really working hard to keep going.  The last couple miles were under my original target pace too (which was very conservative). Leaving in the shuttle, headlamps were still coming down the hill from the Alta aid station.

The course, after 4 changes, was 50.8 miles.  Muir wood was cut out after a bridge washed out.  A second Bunker/Rodeo Valley loop was added at the start to compensate. Old Mine was added in place of part of Coastal.  The ridge trail past Willow Camp was shifted up to the road.  Dipsea was replaced with Steep Ravine, which I didn’t find out until reaching the bridge where they split.    

Finishing a 50 mile race has been a long standing goal, since I ran my first 5k.  It took almost three years, and ended up being a long slow haul, but taking my time, both in the timing of the race and in my pace, was worth it.  The only real pain was taking my shoes off at the end.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Mt Tam 50k

November, 2014

This was very much a training run for the North Face Endurance Challenge for me, and many people who ran this also ran the NFEC three weeks later.  But in itself it’s a gorgeous course.  Once again, I crossed paths with DL, who would go on to win.  

I upped the pace a bit for this 50k, compared to the last couple.  I kept it up climbing Steep Ravine, dropping down Ben Johnson, climbing back up the Lost trail, following along Pantoll Road, and dropping down the Dipsea to Muir Woods Rd.  Climbing Miwok up to Dias Ridge slowed me down a bit.  After passing through the Muir Beach aid station, we made the long climb up Heather Cutoff and Coastal.  This took more out of me than expected, and I slowed a fair amount on the last loop through Muir Woods.  

The final climb really slowed me down; about 20 people passed me on this climb and the subsequent run down Dipsea to Stinson Beach.  When there’s less than 100 runners, that’s fairly significant.  After the fact, I realized I’d never had a climb of that size at the end of a 50k.  I finished in 7:49:10, at 84/90.    

Parting thoughts: 
* This race was entirely strength bound; picking up the pace early cost me later.  It’s seriously time to fix that.  
* Lots of Strava PR’s on various segments, except that last loop.
* The faster pace was more than comfortable for about 20 miles.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Rocky Ridge Half Marathon

October 2014

A half marathon with ~4000 ft of climbing.  I’m in.  I was debating it, since I had a goal to race less to allow for more effective training, and it was between two 50ks that are 4 weeks apart.  But there was too much good about it: Las Trampas, crazy climbing, and compulsively finishing Brazen’s ultra half series.  

It turned into a long, slow, hot, steep day.  The trails were gorgeous, especially the first half, and the second half had some of the best views in the east bay.  Somewhere in the last climb of the first loop I slowed dramatically on a very steep portion, and the long steep climb into the second half went the same way.  But it’s finished.  In well over three hours.  This would be a good one to come back to--it's close, hard, and has all my weak points in it.  DL and JB ran this too--we've been crossing paths at races a lot lately.

Written Dec. 2014--catching up on all of this fall.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Oregon Coast 50k

October, 2014

There was a line in the sand.  I don’t think I’ve seen an actual starting line marked in the ground at a trail race before.  But we were starting on the beach.  It was raining, the wind was blowing; it would be a headwind on the beach for the first six miles.  And we started.  

The run on the beach was magical, in a way.  Something about the mix of rain, wind, surf, running through drainage streams across the beach, and seeing the large group of people running down the beach made this really unique.  I love running in “bad” weather—far more so than in anything sunny, warm, or dry.

I kept an easy pace—this would be a 50k, and my right calf was still tight from a bee sting on a run in Redwood Regional park the week before.  This would leave my strength off balance for the day.  But I was here to get out of my element and see a part of the west coast I’ve never seen, so I took this is stride and set out to enjoy the course.  

We climbed up onto a gravel trail that passed a number of resorts.  PL and MC were out and cheering, watching from right outside the room we had booked; I don’t think I’ve ever had a course pass this close to where we’re staying—only 10 feet from our door.  Along this whole stretch, many people cheered from patios and porches on the coast.  

I stopped at the first aid station, which would be the eventual finish, and changed to drier shoes.  The course passed a couple miles through Yachats, and then made a decent climb through gorgeous, peaceful coastal forest.  The rain backed off and turned to mist/fog interspersed with sunny moments, all under trees.  Along the top, there was mud, where I I was way out of my element, since I’ve only had a few rainy runs in the bay area over the last couple years, given the drought we’ve had.  The course opened up to a great view near the Cape Perpetua lookout, and then it made a fast downhill to the second aid station.

After a short flat stretch through forest just off the coast, the course started a long climb up the Cummins Creek Trail.  I mixed in uphill running and fast hiking here.  After backing way down on pace and finally hitting a consistent 50k effort at my last 50k, I wanted to bring back uphill running at this distance.  There was a small aid station at the top, which was great, since I was drinking a lot of water on this course.  The long uphill effort was rewarded with a long downhill run on forest-covered single track.  

Passing through the last aid station, we crossed back over the first hill.  The downhill was steeper than I’m used to this late in a race, and my quads certainly felt it.  After running back through town, the finish was back on the coast, where we had sun, an awesome view, pizza, music, and beer.  PL and MC made it out to the finish, and we met a number of great people, staying quite a while.  And I won a bottle of wine in the raffle.  Finish time was 7:23:24, slower than I expected, to no surprise.  But this was an awesome run on a great part of the coast, and definitely my favorite 50k. 

Coastal 50k

September, 2014

Once I saw the course map for this, about a year ago, I knew I had to run it.  So I signed up for it forever ago, sometime in late 2013.  In part to force myself to get my distance up to 50k so I could run it.  I did that, finishing three other 50ks in the spring before taking a couple month racing break.

The race started with a long bus ride from Rodeo Beach up to Stinson Beach.  I like arriving early to races at Stinson, usually to get a coffee and take a walk on the beach, but there wasn’t time for that this time.  And then we started.

At the three 50ks I’ve run until now, I kind of lost all effort around mile 18-20 and slowed down a lot.  The big goal for today was consistency—I wanted to find a consistent effort that would let me run stronger at the end of the race than at the start.  And without major muscle pain.  I used two limiters: First, nothing should feel like I’m pushing muscle effort outside my comfort zone.  Second, heart rate should max out around 160ish, and absolutely stay below 170 (I max out at 193).  

To avoid the psychological rush to run up the start of the Dipsea trail, I started in the back, and kept a steady fast hiking pace all the way up Dipsea and Steep Ravine.  By the time we reached the top, we were surrounded by fog, which held throughout the day.  After running a few miles on trails that were new to me, I passed through the Cardiac aid station and started a steady downhill run on Coastal View/Heather Cutoff.  I love running these two trails at speed, so it took a lot of willpower to hold back the pace here, especially with all the recent speed training I’ve done.  Otherwise, this part just flew by, unlike running/hiking the trail in the uphill direction.  

I passed through the Muir Beach aid station, where I’ve never actually stopped before, and headed out on Pirates Cove.  Around here I started to really zone out, since I had really set into consistent pace by this point.  After turning inland, I power hiked for what seemed like forever up the Coastal Trail, eventually turning down Miwok for a fun run into Tenessee Valley, the halfway point.

Marincello.  I hate this trail.  I just don’t like it.  I’d rather run through West Oakland.  At night.  By myself.  It’s long, steady, and very consistent.  As much as I wanted to run to get it overwith, I just kept speed hiking it.  But at the top are some of my favorite trails in the headlands; they pass through small fog-rain microclimate tree stands, there’s always wind, the fog moves fast over the ridge, and there’s great views.  The course turned downhill along Bobcat to the Rodeo Valley aid station.  There was a quarter mile stretch where my left IT band tightened up, so I stopped at the next fence to stretch it out, letting a few people pass.

And then the course went back up the hill on the Rodeo Valley trail.  In the windy gap (I don’t know if it has a name), which is one of my favorite places to pass through in the bay area, we turned to run down to the Golden Gate Bridge.  I’ve never run down here, but we ended up at an aid station right next to where my August Golden Gate swim ended.  I ate about 10 orange slices.  More than I’ve ever had at once in a race.  Heading back out the last uphill, I speed hiked for a while and then started running, since it was the last climb.  Coming down the Coastal Trail, I started pushing the pace, and passed a couple people who had passed me earlier, during the IT band nonsense.  

Getting to the last aid station, I only had a quick drink and snack and kept going, starting to really push the pace.  In the final stretch I came close to passing someone, but as we had gotten very close to the finish, I let him take the spot in front of me.  On these long races, I’m not big on passing people within yards of the finish.  

I finished in 7:18:21, feeling decent, at 73/100.  I could have run faster at many times, but I’m not convinced it would have made my overall run any faster.  Keeping the consistent effort led to a much more enjoyable race, and gives me a better idea of how to move forward with 50ks.  After the last one, I was kind of lost on ideas of where to go, which led to the summer racing break.  The race wasn’t a PR, but it was almost 42 minutes under my best time at a comparable course (in the 6000 to 7000 feet range).  After finishing, I went straight into a lot of stretching, enjoyed the warm finish line food, chatted a bit, and headed out for a family event.  

Next up: a brutal half marathon.

(I'm posting this months later, after originally writing it shortly after the race.)