Sunday, April 11, 2010

American River 50 Mile Endurance Run

On Saturday, April 10th, 600 + runners gathered in the morning darkness to run a 50 mile ultra marathon. The American River 50 Mile Endurance Run is the second largest 50 mile trail marathon in the U.S. The run begins near the Guy West Bridge in Sacramento and follows the American River up to Auburn. The run features 3,474 ft of elevation ascent and 2,139 ft of elevation descent. The first half of the course is mostly pavement with the rest being run on single track.

In order for me to run all the way up the river I knew that my body would need to be in great condition. Two weeks before the race date I slightly pulled a in muscle in my calf while running on the Golden Gate Bridge.

With just over a week till the race date I visited a massage therapist who spends a lot of time on Ultra Runners. VeLoyce Shackelton at Monsters of Massage worked on my legs, he could tell that I was prone to cramping. Which I was. I've cramped up in every race prior. He told me to rub Absorbine gel (a horse muscle pain relief gel) on my legs three times a day, and to get up to The Auburn Running Company to purchase compression socks and Sportlegs. He also told me "No running until race day." This would be the hardest prescription to follow. I heeded his advice.

Without being able test out my calf on a training run I was flooded with self doubt. I resolved to the fact that there was a chance I would not be able to finish the race.

During race week a friend suggested that I visit a local physical therapist to look at my calf and apply "Magic Tape." Magic tape? I was ready to try anything. I would have carried a pregnant goat on my shoulders if it guaranteed me a finish. I made it over to Alves and Martinez Physical Therapy and Billy Martinez skillfully applied kinesio tape to my calf.

The last wrinkle to weigh on my mind was that my running shoes were wearing out. I had a new pair of shoes but I had only run in them three times. Either way I was taking a gamble, I decided to run in my older pair of shoes.

IT BAND OF BROTHERS (Start - 26.53)
My running partner Scott Smith and I joined fellow runner Ron Freeman at the start line. I met Ron through the Armstrong & Getty Show. He called the program after he had heard that I was running AR50. He invited me to run with him, an offer I could not refuse.

Our plan was to run the first half of the race at a 9:00 minute mile pace and a 10:00 minute mile pace through the foothills.

We started the race in the dark at 6AM. Running on the pavement is not my favorite, especially after not having run in over a week. The weather was perfect, it was in the high 50's and the sun was beginning to peak over the Sierras.

The beginning of the race went well. The trail was flat and hugged next to the American River. My legs felt okay, not totally fresh, but I was happy that my calf was not presenting any issues. A couple of runners from out of state joined our group, Brian from Toronto and Chris from DC. We talked about the race course and our running experiences.

My friend Becky (who I also met through the Armstrong and Getty Show) offered to be my crew. She is an experienced ultra runner. An unexpected injury kept her from running the race, so she was kind enough to support me throughout the race. She met me at mile 17, just prior to the climb up Hazel Ave. She replaced my water bottle and sent me on my way.

We climbed up to the Nimbus Overlook aid station at mile 18. I grabbed potato rolled in salt, banana and pay day bars. I washed them down with water and headed down the single track. Ron bellowed out a "Thank you volunteers!!!" as we left.

We were making our way through the Nimbus Bluffs. It was nice to run on dirt and not on pavement. My IT band began to throb at mile 20. I had a really bad bout with an IT band injury a few months earlier as a result from running on worn out shoes. If I continued on these any further the IT band would force me to stop. Walking wouldn't even be an option. I called Becky on my cell phone and told her I would need to have a shoe change at the mile 22 aid station.

My IT band was getting worse and worse. Descents were killing me. We climbed down from the bluffs and made way to the Negro Bar aid station. This aid station was being operated by a large group of volunteers from my running club, The Folsom Trail Runners. I would have been more enthusiastic to see my running friends but I was too focused on my IT band.

Becky addresses our issues.
(photo courtesy Mike Giomi)

Becky had two chairs waiting for us along with a bevy of food and equipment. My running partner Scott had complained about a hot spot on his foot. I told him Becky could take a look at it. We approached her and she ordered us to sit. She simultaneously worked on getting my timing chip off my old shoes and onto my new ones and examined Scott's foot. She grabbed some food and advil for me and sent us out. People were wowing about Becky's performance as we left Negro Bar.

Becky and Diane from the Folsom Trail Runner help get me out of the aid station.
(photo courtesy of Mike Giomi)

My legs started to feel better in new shoes but the IT band was still aching. Ron told me to take more advil at the next aid station.

We were back on the pavement of the bike trail and making our way up the 4.13 miles to Beals Point. Beals Point is an important landmark because it's past the halfway point and also marks the end to running on pavement. The trail started to climb and my legs were already getting tired.

By this point Ron and Scott had run ahead of me. I told them that my IT band was holding me back and to continue ahead of me. I ran down into Beals Point aid station alone, but I was anything but. My family, parents, Becky and running buddy Jesse were all waiting for me.

The first person I saw was my Dad. Seeing him brought forth memories of him attending my sporting events in high school. It really boosted my spirits. Then I saw my Mom. She was waving a pink pom-pom in the air. I ran up to her and gave her a high-five.

I ran ahead and was greeted by my wife Tammy and daughter Emma. Emma was waving a pom-pom. I gave my wife a kiss and ran with my daughter up to aid station food table. I grabbed a bunch of food and just mashed it into my face.

Becky exchanged my water bottle which was restocked with S-Caps, sportlegs and gels. My running buddy Jesse was there. Jesse is another ultra runner I met through the Armstrong and Getty Show Facebook page. (odd, isn't it?) Jesse and I have been out on a couple of training runs before. He offered to pace me from Beals Point to the finish line. What an awesome offer. Jesse is an experienced runner who had run this race before so I relieved to be in such great hands.

THE LONG WAY HOME (26.53 to 50)
I gave my dad a hug as Jesse and I headed on our way out of Beals Point. We finally got our feet onto dirt trail. I let Jesse know about my issues and he let in with the positive reinforcement, which I badly needed.

The journey from Beals Point to the finish line would take us from Folsom up to Granite Bay and onward to Auburn. The trail would be on some fire road but mostly single track. Sections of this trail get very technical which poses a problem for tired legs and weary heads. The trail quickly ascends and descends over ruts, rocks and roots.

By the time we ran up to mile 3o I knew the rest of the race was going to be a struggle. My new shoes were taking a toll on my body and I was developing stomach issues. I was starting to feel nauseous. Jesse began monitoring my nutrition intake. I was taking in too many calories and not drinking enough water.

As we ran into the aid station at mile 31.67 we ran through a large group of people waiting to greet friends and family. The crowd was uncommonly quiet, so I pumped my hands into the air, encouraging the people to cheer. They did. I grabbed some chicken noodle soup and we headed back out.

Running through the Foothills was challenging, but after all this was a 50 mile race, what was I supposed to expect? By mile 42 I wanted to puke. We had been climbing up and down the rocky single track. I was power hiking on the ups and taking slow steps on the downs. My legs were toast and my right quad was cramping up.

The dirt trail ended at mile 47.56, the beginning of the dreaded "LAST GASP." Last Gasp is a 1,700 ft climb on pavement to the finish line. I began a slow walk up. This is where Jesse kicked into gear. He picked out a landmark and made me run to it. We would walk for a few yards and then he would start up again. "See that sign up there? We're running there, dude. Let's go. GO!"

We kept climbing up from the river to the Auburn Overlook. With two miles left I put on my iPod for a little more motivation. Most of the runners around me were walking. I started my charge up the hill. Runners were looking at me like I was a freak. I had been pacing with them for so long that must have been so unexpected to see me go. I lost my steam but Jesse kept on top of me, picking out landmarks for me to run to and motivating me to get to the finish line to meet my family and drink a beer.

I got up to the finishing area. It seemed like forever before I would get to the finish line. My wife and daughter were waiting for me. My daughter ran with me across the finish line. I picked her up and gave a hug and a kiss. I collected my finisher's jacket and Emma collected a stuffed puffin.

I finished in 9:21, 187th place. I was forty minutes off my expected finish time, but I'll take it. I also qualified for Western States, I hope to have a race report for that one day.

A special thank you to my family, Becky, Jesse and the 200+ AR50 volunteers. Without them, this race report would not have been possible, or it would have been very short to say the least.

Run Happy,

Jesse & me at the finish.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Way Too Cool 50K - 2010

Prelude To A Run

The Way Too Cool 50K was my first ultra marathon. I have been training for the race since December. During my training I overcame a rather bad IT band injury and a two week bout with asthmatic bronchitis (weeks prior to the big event). I know that I wasn't in conditioning that I wanted but it would have to be good enough.

I have been training with my running partner/neighbor Scott, a new group of ultra runners and the Folsom Trail Runners. Without these key elements I would not have realized my goal, to become an ultra runner.

Let the games begin.


The night before the race a storm rattled Northern California. It was expected to rain and snow in Cool on Friday night as mass quantities of water poured all over the valley below. I live in the valley below and was happy to see Saturday's weather was going to be chilly but clear.

The morning of the event I went out to my car to load my gear in the trunk. I pressed the handy-dandy trunk release button on my car remote and nothing happened. "What the??" As I approached the car it was evident that an ice age had blanketed our city. My car was covered in thick ice. Ice cracked as I opened my truck. I went to the driver's side door and pulled up on the door handle. The door was frozen shut. "You've got to be kidding me??" I pulled on the handle with more force, nothing. I put both hands on the handle and pulled, gritting my teeth. SNAP!!!! I reeled backwards with my icy red door handle in my hand. My door handle snapped off!

I could only laugh. I was starting to run late and I needed to get down the street to pick up my neighbor and get up to Cool.

Welcome To the Endurance Running Capital of the World

Way Too Cool 50K is a 31 mile race in Cool, CA. Cool is a few miles east of Auburn, finishing area for Western States 100 Endurance Run and American River 50. Way Too Cool is the second largest 50K in the US, hosting 575 runners. It boasts 30 miles of single trail/fire roads, 3,600' of elevation gain and decent. It attracts some of trail running's best as well as new comers to the sport.

Since Northern California has been in El Nino's path for much of the winter, the ground cannot absorb any more water. Because a storm rocked the Cool trail overnight the keywords of the day were "water" and "mud."

I had never run the Cool trail before so I wasn't sure what to expect. I had studied the elevation chart and course map with aid station location information. I wrote down the distances to each major climb and aid station on my wrist so I could adjust my pace accordingly. It really paid off in the long run. Doubt and uncertainty were elements I wanted taken out of the race for the sole purpose of being able to enjoy my run.

Having never run in an ultra marathon I knew I had to adjust my mindset to how I approached the day. Do I push my pace? Should I be conservative? Should I kick it nature boy style and skip naked? I decided to run happy. Run because you love to run. Run because you love the environment. Run because you want to enjoy the experience. The journey is the goal, not the finish time. I know that I am capable of running fast. But I also know that I can push myself in a happy running zone that will put me in a respectable finishing time. Don't get me wrong, I want to finish well, I just don't want to go out too hard or finish at the back of the pack. I want to run my race.

Way Too Muddy - (Start to Mile 7.1)

I got to the start line less than a minute before the race began. I didn't have time to stretch or find my running partner. I was about 3/4 the way back from the start line. Not where I wanted to be. The race director gave us a few instructions and we all counted down from 10 to 1. We were off. As I started moving forward my eyes began to tear up. All of my hard training, set backs, mornings and nights away from my family, runs in the rain, cold and dark came to this moment. I was really happy. I'm not ashamed to admit it. I am proud of myself for setting this goal and committing to it. And I am here with 500+ people to realize the same goal and share and an experience. It's a wonderful thing.

When running in a pack of people I have the problem of running at their pace and not my own. I feel like an antelope running with the pack, do what the pack is doing so you don't do something stupid. It's as if the collective is bestowing upon me how I should run. I got lulled into a slower pace than I wanted. By the time I figured it out we were running on single track and passing was becoming difficult. But I found my rhythm and started to enjoy the course. At mile four I decide to stop to take a pic to upload to my Facebook page. I don't know why I thought it would be a good idea. I didn't realize that doing so would put me back further than where I wanted to be.

Muddy mile 4.

The trail was beyond muddy. There were sections that you couldn't even run through, you had to go around to avoid thick, deep mud puddles. But trying to keep your feet dry was a lost cause. We came up to our first of many, many water crossing and it was on.....splash city. Many runners negotiated ways around the water crossings. Some tip toed on rocks above the water line, some leaped across as if they were in a long jump competition. My philosophy is this... just freaking run through the creek already. I would rather have wet feet than risk an injury by slipping on a rock or misjudging a leap.

Between mile 6 and 7 the single track began to quickly descend. I was tip toeing around embedded and loose rocks, viscous mud and exposed roots. Runner were doing their best to negotiate the terrain, one misstep and you could take a horrible fall. Choose the route you think is best and pay close attention to what the runner is doing ahead of you. A woman in front of me made a bad choice and was in mud up over her ankle.

My friend Jesse greeted me as I was descending on the first aid station. "Hey! My buddy!!", I yelled. I was so surprised to see him there rooting me on. I wasn't feeling too great about running so far back in the pack so it was a major boost to see him.

Happy to see a friend on an unfriendly course.
(Photo courtesy of Jesse Barragan)

I charged ahead to the first aid station (mile 7.1). It was a total party. There was loud music, a line of volunteers waiting to fill bottles, tables of food and the banana guy. I handed my electrolite bottle to a volunteer and headed for the grub table. I grabbed some banana, pretzels, payday bars and Gu. I got my electrolite bottle and handed my water bottle to another volunteer. I looked up and the volunteer was Dirt Diva, Catra Corbett. "OMG!", I thought to myself. Catra has a blog that I've been following for a while now. In brief, Catra is a cross-fit, ultra running rock star with pinker than hot pink hair and covered in tattoos that would make Ray Bradbury's Illustrated Man stand up and applaud. She is by nature, as far as I can tell, the real deal. True to herself and an authentic original. She is on the short list of people that I would love to run with one day.

When Catra handed me my water bottle I told her how much I enjoyed her blog and thanked her for the water.

Yup. You guessed it. The Banana Guy.

A large group of people cheered like crazy as I left the aid station. I high-five'd the banana guy as I left.

The Root of All Evil (7.1 to 15.4)

I was completely amped when I left the first aid station. I just saw my buddy, I was assisted by the Dirt Diva and high-five'd a guy dressed up like a banana.

I was back running on single track, running happy. The Beatles' "Eleanor Rigby" started up on my iPod and my endorphins kicked in and so did the Cool trail gods. Before I knew what had happened I caught my right foot on a root and sailed to the ground. I landed with a hard "UMPH!!!" I landed on my stomach and chest. There was no time to brace for the impact.

Luckily I landed on soft trail and not on rocks. Had I done so I am positive I would have cracked a rib.

I got up. My knee was throbbing and my left hand and was bleeding. I needed to get off the single track and fast. I came up to a clearing and did a systems check. My core was sound, no blood or scrapes on my chest or belly. My knee was sore and cut up but I would be able to continue. I was bleeding from my thumbnail and finger.

I clean myself and my muddy water bottles. Runner after runner passed me by, putting me further back in the pack and unable to pass a lot of runners on the single track.

It took me a couple of miles to get over the fall. All I could do was leave it in the past. What's done is done, focus on what you are doing now.

400'+ climb at mile 10.

The trail was now parallel to the American River. We were running in and out of the sun, running through deep creeks and passing gorgeous waterfalls.

One of the many reasons why I like trail running.
(Photo courtesy of Becky Johnson)

By mile 13 I came up on a pack of 15 runners in a single file. They were running a slower pace than I wanted. We were on a narrow single trail. To our right was steep hill, to our left was a steeper drop off. Loose your footing here and you are in a world of hurt. I was getting frustrated with the train of runners. I wanted to pass, but couldn't find the space. I told the runners ahead of me that the leaders in the race would be heading back our way. When that happens your must give them the right of way. This really slows down your rhythm and pace.

Sure enough, Max King is leading race and headed our way. Everybody stops and steps to the right. "That's it!!!", I told myself. I couldn't take it anymore. I jumped up on the steep embankment and yelled "ON YOUR RIGHT!" over and over again. I was possessed. I didn't care about twisting an ankle or if others thought I was being rude. This is a race. I want to race! I want to run my pace, not what pack leader decides. I wasn't the only one to charge ahead. Other runners joined my exodus.

Two other lead runners came back towards me. After that I was able to run free to the next aid station.

The Battle at Ball Bearing Hill (15.4 to 21.7)

Happy to be away from the pack and in the harbor of the second aid station I spotted a fellow Folsom Lake Trail runner. We met few weeks ago during a Wolf Pack Night Run. These runs are for intermediate runners on technical trail. He is training for Western States. Heck of a nice guy, strong runner. Nearing the mid point of the race it was nice to be around a familiar face. We exchanged hellos as we gorged ourselves on food and drink.

This next portion of the race is a 6.3 mile loop back to our current aid station. This leg of the race is home to Ball Bearing Hill. When people talk about this hill it is often done so while wincing. Ball Bearing Hill is a 700'+ climb in less than a mile. Ouch.

One of the many creek crossings.
(Photo courtesy of Becky Johnson)

Around mile 17 I was greeted by my friend Jesse again and this time he brought our fellow running compadre Ken. They were yelling and cheering as I approached. I was stoked! They gave me a tremendous boost of energy and excitement.

Stunned to see my buddies so far into the course. Thanks guys!
(Photo courtesy of Jesse Barragan)

Just a word about Jesse and Ken. Jesse just ran the Napa Valley Marathon in a blazing 3:00:36! And Ken runs 30+ miles without blinking an eye.

After seeing the duo the trail began a steep descent which needed to be carefully negotiated. At the bottom I was greeted with a wide and deep water crossing. The current looked really strong. I watched a runner get in the water. The water just rose and rose up his body. Now, being a man of shorter stature I knew this was going to be a challenge. I pulled up my running belt which held my iPhone and waded across. The water came up a 1/4" from my crotch. And that is all I am going to say about that.

Deep water crossing. At what point does it become swimming?
(Photo courtesy of Becky Johnson)

The water crossing was refreshing and it felt good to have water clean off my bloody knee. We were greeted by a pair of volunteers at the bottom of Ball Bearing Hill. They gave us words of encouragement and the promise of beer at the top. We proceeded to a slow hike up the hill.

A look down at Ball Bearing Hill.

I imagine it is called Ball Bearing Hill because of all the loose rocks that acts like ball bearings. The trail was rocky, slick and steep. I just put my head down and powered ahead. "Keep moving forward" was my mantra.

Looking up.

At mile 21.7 were greeted by our third aid station. Happy to have the dreaded hill over we where happy to devour more payday bars, bananas, potatoes dipped in salt. I took an S-cap for good measure and loaded up on drink. I looked over and my buddy Deno was there. Deno is part of the Jesse, Ken running group. They are quite the trio of runners. Deno was run/walking the race. I am scared to think of how fast he can go injury free. I am so impressed with his determination to say "bullocks" to the injury, "I'm doing it."

You Won't Get-My-Goat (21.7 to 26.8)

The next section of the race is home to Goat Hill, another steep climb. It's not as bad as the last hill, but it short, steep and fierce. Compound that fact that it is deeper into the race and you have yourself a cramp-creating-machine.

I spent a good portion of this trail talking to a fellow runner from Connecticut. He was so impressed with Northern California and all of it's offerings. It was nice to see and hear the appreciation for our local trail. We tackled Goat Hill by keeping up the conversation and keeping the thought of the pain out of our heads. It really was a survival maneuver.

We made it to the top of Goat Hill and the 4th aid station hosted by Helen Klein. If you don't know who she is, read this.

I loaded up on more food. A female runner was complaining of cramps. Helen offered her some of the broth she was stirring over the camping stove. She said it helped with cramping. When Helen Klein offers advice, you take it. I took some both too. It's the best broth I've ever tasted. And great company and scenery too boot.

CHARGE! (26.8 to 29.7)

I left Helen's aid station with only 4.2 miles left to go. I was feeling great. Sure my legs were tired but I was still running happy. My only goal was to finish the race in the time window I gave to my wife. She was running herd on our three year old daughter. Not an easy task at a running event. Luckily there was playground near the finish line to keep her occupied, but for how long? I was going to finish close to her nap time and it really doesn't matter if I am running happy, because if Mommy is unhappy ain't nobody happy.

In this leg of the race you couldn't run 50' without coming up to a mud puddle. So I did the single greatest thing, I charged ahead through every mud puddle. I didn't care where the mud was going, how deep the puddle was. I was too tired to run around them. Charge on! Splash in the mud like a pig! Love the mud!

It's Not How You Start. It's How You Finish. (29.7 to 31)

I ran across highway 49 into the last aid station. There was a throng of people there cheering the runners on. I didn't need to stop for any food or drink. I waved hello and gave a great big smile.

The trail came to another steep climb, the final push. I called my wife to let her know I was close to the finish.

I came up to the "1 Mile" marker and cycled through my iPod to find the song "Ali in the Jungle" by The Hours. The song has been my motivation for weeks and I wanted to finish the race with it playing.

Last half mile of the course.
(Photo courtesy of Ken McKee)

With less than a mile left I ran up to our Folsom Trail Runner organizer Diane. She greeted me with her awesome spirit and smile. I yelled out a hello and sped up. With less than a half mile to go I could see the Cool Fire Station and more importantly the finish line. I kicked up my pace. Ken and Jesse were waiting, yelling and cheering. I was beaming. My legs felt as fresh as when I started. I turned a right corner for the finish line and my wife and daughter were waiting for me.

The three ultra amigos. Ken, Jesse & Deno.

My wife yelled to our daughter, Emma. "There's Daddy!" Seeing the two together brought up an tsunami of emotions. I was so happy to see them. They are the single most important things in my life. I reached out and grabbed Emma's hand so we could run together. We held hands for a short time but then she wanted to let go. She wanted to race me. I wanted to race her. She stomped on the mud and powered through puddles. She was covered from head to toe in mud. My little girl crossed the finish line ahead of me. She won the race.

Emma & me crossing the finish line. Future trail runner?
(Photo courtesy of Donia Smith)

The race was over and I spent the rest of the time with my family and friends. We exchanged stories, took pictures and enjoyed each others company. A perfect day.

Officially an ultra runner.
(Photo courtesy of Ken McKee)

PLACE: 152
FINISH TIME: 5:39:10
PACE: 10:55

Run Happy!

Run Happy.
(Photo courtesy of Jesse Barragan)

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Winter of Our Running Content

Greetings Runners and Mild Observers. It has been a long time since the Lithia Loop Marathon back in November. I have finally returned with good tidings of running cheer.

My plan is to run WAY TOO COOL in March, AMERICAN RIVER 50 Miler in April, pace at MIWOK 100K, volunteer at an aid station at WESTERN STATES in June, run SOB 50K in July and LITHIA LOOP TRAIL MARATHON in November. Whew!! That's a ton of running.

If there are any other marathons on ultras worth considering, please let me know.

Training has been going well. I am running over 50 miles a week. My legs are healthy, tired, but healthy. I run 3 core workouts during the week, a loooong run on Saturday and a long run on Sunday. I'm running as many hills as I can along with speed workouts, when I can manage. For a lack of better judgement, I am also incorporating a crossfit workout into the mix.

That is all for now. I hope to have another report up here this weekend.

Happy Running.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Lithia Loop Trail Marathon Race Report

The second running of the Lithia Loop Trail Marathon also served as US Track and Field Marathon Trail Championships. It was a who's-who of trail runners. It's like watching celebrities walking on the red carpet to an awards show. Only these people are dressed the in the finest polyester, lycra and spandex.

The Lithia Loop Trail is a monster. A beautiful, green and scenic monster. The trail offers 21 miles of dirt trail, 3.5 miles of single track and 4,700 feet of elevation gain. WHAT? 4,700 feet of elevation? I know this might be considered a mole hill to more experienced runners, but yamma-hamma that is a gain.

I got to the start line at 7:50. Everyone was breathing a sigh of relief that it was not raining. Hal Koerner and Ian Torrence greeted us at the start line and gave us helpful advice about the trail.
They counted us down from 10 to 1 and we were off.

I was wearing a yellow jelly bracelet from my daughter and a livestrong wrist band in honor of my dad who has cancer. I kissed them both and my wedding ring.

I decided that I was not going to push it too hard in this race. I wanted to have a comfortable pace and energy to enjoy to last six miles. After blowing up at Bizz Johnson just a few weeks ago, I didn't want a repeat.

The first eight miles is a 3,000 foot+ elevation gain and then some. The trail went up for the first 9 to 10 miles. It was really important for me to scale it back and run a slower pace. Running on the fire road was a nice way to warm up. At mile 7 we departed the fire road and proceeded on single track. I was running in a line of 6 runners. We all seemed pretty jazzed to be running on the dirt and in the trees. I know I was. One of the runners ahead of me let out a mighty YALP! It was nice to be in a line because it keep me from running too fast. I was power hiking from time to time. I didn't mind. I was keeping pace and enjoying the scenery of lush forest.

We popped out of the single track and met our second aid station. Erik Skaggs was there helping out parched runners. The volunteer's enthusiasm was tremendous. I really appreciated their spirit. They loaded me up and sent me on my way.

For some reason I thought that once we finished our monster climb the trail would level off. It didn't. We just kept going up. This really killed my spirit. And just as my spirit was getting low, it got even lower. A very steady drizzle began to fall. BLAH. The forecast lied to me this morning. It said it was going to be partly cloudy. Good thing I was wearing my new Sugoi racing vest. You saved me today running vest. I love you.

The trail started to descend and I was happy. But the cold was really getting to me. It must have been in the mid to upper 30's. My hands were numb, swollen and blue. I couldn't rip open my Gu packets. I had to use my teeth. It was as if I had dipped my hands in novocain. I recall a movie starring Sinbad, where he was impersonating a dentist and had to pull a patient's tooth while both his hands were numb. The simple task of tucking my empty Gu packet into a pouch was a comedy. My hands were so cold, while I was at an aid station I was unable to peel a banana. So I bit through the peel and sucked out the slimy goodness.

I must admit, despite the cold and wet conditions, I was happy as a clam. I'll take that over 90 degree + weather any day.

I appreciate the race organizer's sense of humor. At mile 20 they marked the fire road with chalk. It read "THE WALL." I felt good. I kept waiting for my body to go into convulsions or something. Nothing happened. The mystique of the 20 mile marker lives on.

An employee at Rogue Valley Runners warned me about the Caterpillar Hill Trail at the 21 mile mark. She said that it looks innocent enough because it's incline isn't fierce. She said that it was the place where people cramp up. To help avoid this I had taken an S-Cap 15 minutes earlier. It didn't work. I cramped up on my first hill. Oh, I was so mad. "Not today calves." I thought to myself. I scaled back on my pace. Every now and then my calves would cramp, but it wasn't severe. Caterpillar Hill can suck it. I mean it. I will never look at a caterpillar the same again. Even those ginormous trucks made my Caterpillar. You get the same distain too.

The last few miles of single track were fast. The trail was ripped apart in some sections. I think the mountain bikers have taking certain liberties with the trail and it shows. Treacherous for runners. Swaths of uneven earth carved into corners and switchbacks. Just when your mind wants to do nothing but go on autopilot, you are forced to focus. This would be a bad place to trip. I don't know how the health services are in Ashland, but I didn't want to find out.

We left the trail for the final time and were running on pavement. People were coming up the trail to root us on. I smiled and thanked each and every one of them. Lithia Park was now to our right and I was recognizing some of the landmarks from the start line. I started thinking about my family waiting for me at the finish line and I couldn't help but get overcome from my emotions. My eyes began to well up. I focused on the road. I looked down at my watch with less than a mile to go, I was going to come under the 4 hour mark. My two goals today were to finish with a smile and under 4 hours.

I began to pass houses. "I hope my family is there." (They missed me at the finish of my last race). I began to pass parked cars. "I hope I can run with my daughter at the finish line." A young buck wander out into the street ahead of me. It looked and me and walked away. There was my friend Jerry, smiling with his had extended. We high-fived. There was my wife and daughter! My wife said, "Emma wants to run with you." I was so happy. I held Emma's hand and we ran for a couple of yards. She was so excited. I was so excited. Tammy grabbed Emma back and I ran up to the finish line.

Go Emma, Go!

I was done. My friend Anne was there taking pictures. I got my cool wooden medal and headed back to meet the family.

Me and my new best friend, the running vest.

I felt great. I wasn't in pain. I didn't need to go off and walk alone. I wanted to be surrounded by my friends and family.

My cheering section.

We went over to a sushi restaurant and then over to Pioneer Hall to check race results. I noticed that people had beer. I wanted a beer. I found a bottle of Rogue beer and poured some into a Starbucks cup and headed back to the car.

I'll take this over a medal any day.

A special thank you to the race organizers. I can't tell you enough how much I appreciate your courtesy, thoughtfulness and generosity. You over delivered. Next year is going to be quite the happening. See you next year.

TIME: 3:55:27

See you on the trail.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Good, Bad, I'm the Guy With the Gu

This is my pre-race report for the Lithia Loop Trail Marathon. To say that it has been a great two days here in Ashland would be an understatement. I am here with my wife, daughter and close friends, Anne, Jerry and their daughter.

Here are couple of highlights from our time here.

Yesterday, while walking around downtown a bunch of runners past us. I recognized three of the. They were Hal Koener, Jenn Shelton and Erik Skaggs. We said hello and wished them well. I know I am a total goober, but I got all nervous being around them. Me! Nervous? WTH? I work with celebrities, political heavy weights, famous dignitaries, etc. It was kinda funny. I realize that running is such a niche, but I couldn't help but be a little giddy about seeing these people together. What a neat life. To have buddies with the same passion at such an extraordinary level. Cool beans.

We ate chow at the Black Sheep. I had a great pint of amber from a local brewery. Tasty.

Today we started off the morning with breakfast at Morning Glory. One of my all time favorite restaurants. I walked in and low and behold, Bruce Campbell is there eating his breakfast along side Ted Raimi (Brother of Sam Raimi, director of Spiderman). Who is Bruce Campbell, you say? If you have to ask, you don't need to know. I wanted to say hello, but I hate it people recognize me when I am in a public place, especially when I am with my family. GRRRR. It rarely happens, but it does. So I refrained from extending out my hand while he had a mouthful of chicken sausage omelet.

This, is my BOOM stick!

The six of us descended upon Rogue Valley Runners. I got my race packet. As I was rifling through my swag bag another runner checked in. The sales rep asked, "What's your name?" The man replied, "Scott Dunlap."

Holy smokes, there is Scott Dunlap. Okay, who is Scott Dunlap? He is another runner. I came across his trail running blog some time ago. You can check it out here. I knew he would be up here and was hoping I would get a chance to say hello. I really like how he writes. He is an honest and creative writer. His blog was my inspiration for starting this one. I introduced myself. We ended up having a nice chat. A very friendly fellow.

Our caravan pulled stakes from Rogue Valley Runners and went down to Lithia Park to let the kids run crazy. I was able to take a short walk with the family. Quite possibly my favorite moment here.

My favorite part of the trip.

Later in the day I headed over to Lithia Park for a 2 mile jog with my friend Anne. Lithia Park is so beautiful this time of year. We were blown away from the scenery. The local runners are so lucky to be blessed with this park. After .75 miles we the trail climbed up. In no time at all we were running above Ashland Creek. The park was quiet, with exception of the creek below, our shoes stomping in mud, our lungs working oxygen in and out and rain falling all around us.

I can't wait to climb up 8 miles tomorrow.

After the run Anne and I headed back to RVR to buy shoes. I bought a pair of the New Balance MT100s. It's a minimalist shoe. I probably have no business wearing them, but I am a sucker for lightweight shoes. It could be the worst buying decision ever, but who knows, I might surprise myself. Erik Skaggs designed the shoe with a fellow ultrarunner. Since Erik was there I asked him to sign my shoe. He was very cool about it. Thanks Erik. I can't wait to slip them on.

So I am back in the hotel room enjoying the creature comforts. I will have my second race report tomorrow.

See you on the trail.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

All In The (Active) Family

Maybe Archie Bunker wouldn't have been such a grouch if he threw on a pair of running shoes once in awhile. Or maybe Edith would have dumped Archie on his fat ass if she was more empowered by joining some sort of athletic organization. Well, at least for our family, if we didn't exercise we'd go from the Cosby family to the Manson family. That is a fact. You should see our 3 year old toddler sing "BAAAAAAAABE-BAAAAAAY!!" It's hilarious.

"Awwe. Put a running sock in it, would ya, Edith?"

One problem with our Modern Days exercising family is TIME. Especially on the weekends. I have decided to run my first ultra run on December 19th at the Rodeo Beach 50K. This means that I have to run on Saturday and Sunday. My wife is a competitive rower. To say she is competitive is putting it mildly. My sweet, sweet wife who has grace and a positive frame of mind, yelled at two of her own teammates today. She was totally in the right. "If you are able to talk in the boat during a race, you are not rowing hard enough."

My wife had a rowing regatta today at Lake Natoma. I needed to go on a 14 mile run. I really prefer to run in the morning. I like to get it over and done with. Since we live 14 miles from Lake Natoma I decided to run from our house to meet my wife and daughter at the boat house. We could exchange parental duties and then my daughter and I could stick around and cheer Mommy on as she crossed the finish line.

She needed me to be at the boat house by 8am. I left the house this morning at 5:50. And then I came back home because I forgot my watch. I left my house at 5:52. And then I came back home because I forgot my water bottle. I left the house, AGAIN, at 5:55. I ran two miles to the American River Bike Trail and continued on my way. I had two hours and ten minutes to finish my training run. Plenty of time.

It was about 52 degrees outside. I had on shorts, patagonia short sleeve shirt, gloves, my fav skull cap, head lamp, water bottle, nathan pack, ipod shuffle, two packs of shot blocks, one lime gu and my new injinji socks.

It's a glove, for your foot.

Heck, it was still night time when I left my house. I liked it. I love running at night and I love running in the morning. I got to enjoy the best of both worlds. I find so much peace while running alone. To run with a clear mind and not being able to focus on any one thing is nirvana. I passed by a cyclist. I passed by a group of three runners after 5 miles. It was still dark out. I said "Hello" and a faceless woman said "We thought you were a cyclist." I took that as a very nice compliment.

I want to thank the California State Parks for putting port-a-potties on the trail. You deserve a pay raise.

I know this is going to sound cheesy, but I love it when a song you are listening to describes what you are experiencing. When the sun began to rise at mile 8, Fleet Foxes' "Sun It Rises" began to play. It was perfect timing. If you haven't listened to their work, I would strongly recommend it. If their music doesn't touch you, you don't have a soul. Yeah, I said it.

The American River Trail is always abundant with wildlife. The only wildlife I saw today were a dozen jack rabbit bunnies scampering in front of me with their little cotton ball tails bobbing up and down. Very cute.

As the sun came out from behind the Sierra Nevadas the trail began to reveal layers of mist off to the side.

Sun rises over the American River Trail.

Pictures don't do the scenery justice.

My run felt really good. I didn't feel like I was slacking off, but I didn't feel like I was putting out too much either. I wanted to stay at a 8 min mile pace to make sure I was going to meet my family in time. I really didn't want to disappoint my wife or her teammates by holding them up. By mile 12 I began to worry. The pace time on my watch was indicating I would arrive on time, but the actual time was telling me that I had 14 minutes to get there on time. I had not accounted for the pit stops I had taken. Apparently, they took longer than I thought they would. I dug down deep and was gunning for it. Runners were giving me funny looks on the trail because I was running really fast. I felt like Jack Bauer in tense episode of 24, where I had to meet a certain goal time or a nerve gas would be released onto Lake Natoma, turning all the Canadian Geese into flesh eating monsters, attacking rowing shells and proud mom and dads wearing sweat shirts that read "My money and my kid go to Cal." Run faster. Faster. FASTER. Stop the Canadian Geese from attacking.


I got to my destination with 5 minutes to spare. Guess what? You guessed it, oh wise one. My family wasn't even there!! HAHAHHA!! What a running fool I am. We eventually got together and my daughter and I got to watch my wife race.

My wife is stroking the boat. "GO MOMMY!"

Here are my timing results for the 14 mile run:
Avg Pace:07:37 min/mi
Best Pace:04:40 min/mi

So yeah, it all worked out. I got my distance in. My wife got her regatta in. Everyone is in their happy place. I like the happy place. I wonder what Archie would have preferred more, trail or road.

See you on the trail.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Recap: Bizz Johnson Trail Marathon

Sunday, I joined 359 other runners in the Lassen National Forest in Westwood, California for the Bizz Johnson Trail Marathon. The trail marathon follows an old Southern Pacific Railroad route into Susanville. The trail climbs 280 feet for the first 6 miles and then descends 1,300 feet to the finish. It hails 10 water crossings and two tunnels that would make the tunnel to the batcave envious.

My only goal was to finish the race. I had never run a marathon before...not even a half marathon. I'd been training with my neighbor Scott since May, when he put the idea in my head. I'd logged 500 plus miles, joined a trail running group and was on my third pair of running shoes. I felt strong and I felt ready. It was nice to have the butterflies back in my stomach again. The kind I used to get when I competed in sports in high school and college.

I had the ultimate blessing of being invited to stay at my neighbor's inlaw's cabin at Lake Almanor. As it turned out, the cabin was only 15 minutes from the start. 15 MINUTES!!! Consider that 95% of the runners met at the finish line in Susanville at 7:45am to ride in a bus for 45 minutes to the start. I'm sure riding with the other runners was a cool experience and something I missed out on. But my wife's Subaru with seat warmers and Old Crow Medicine Show playing might as well have been a limo.

C-c-c-c-c-old. I'm on the left. Scott on the right.

"34 degrees" read the temp gauge inside my wife's car was we climbed out. We massed around the start line. The race director asked everyone trying to qualify for the Boston Marathon please come up to the start line. We hung back. We couldn't hear the race director on his bullhorn, but the herd of runners began to move forward. My first marathon has begun.

The problem with not hearing the race director is that you don't know that the first .7 of the race is out and back. "Holy crap! There are runners headed back right for me!" It was an odd way to start the race. I was told that a couple of runners fell down at the orange cone turn around. It was a rather tight spot.

The first 2 miles was slow and a matter of pulling away from the middle of the pack. Scott and I were running together by mile 3. We agreed that it was everyman for himself and that we would not stop or slow down the pace for the other. Something that came back to bite me. (More on that later).

We picked up the pace...8:30 mile pace, 8:15, 8:00, 7:50, 7:40. We felt good and were cruising. It was nice to have a comfortable pace and look around and enjoy the scenery. The trail was beautiful. It was a mix of dense trees, open fields and the fall taking hold of Lassen Park, turning green leaves into a golden yellow.

Away we go. Scott is with me step for step.

After 6 miles I was ready for steady incline to stop. I wanted to see what sort of downhill roller coaster this trail was going to be.

Not much of roller coaster, as it turned out. The trail felt very flat, even through we were going down.

At mile 14 Scott peeled off to stretch and load up on nutrients. I kept going. I also kept blowing past aid stations, not taking water or food.

At mile 15 I came up on a two runners. A man was following close behind a woman. I thought they were running together because they were so tight. I made my pass and the man tailed me, as if he wanted to draft. "???" Really? This trail is as wide as a fire road and you want to draft? I would understand if this was a single track, but if I take a tumble, he is coming with me and making things much worse. I ran on the left side on the road, he followed. I ran on the right side of the road, he followed. We came up on the mile 16 aid station, he stopped. I kept going.

I promised myself I could put on my ipod shuffle at mile 16 for the last 10 miles. I was still feeling great. I was still passing runners and not being passed by anyone. 10 miles to go!! Woo Hoo. I was still feeling great. I was smiling. Actually smiling.

Aid station well stocked with grub and very friendly peeps.

At mile 19 I ran with two other people They had a good pace and I thought it would be nice to steady the pace. I knew that there would be an incline coming up. We were approaching mile 20 and there it was. A very steep incline with a bevy of spectators cheering us on. The two guys I was with began walking the hill. For whatever reason I decided that this would be a good place to pass them. I was wrong. As I ran up the hill both my calves cramped up. I got to the top of the hill and made way to the 20 mile aid station. I didn't know if I had pulled both muscles or what.

I stopped to stretch. Just then, my buddy Scott ran by me and gave me a word of encouragement. I should have asked for help. I didn't know what was happening or what to do. I started running again and calves cramped up. This time the pain was more intense and I screamed. I stopped and walked. I realized that my run was in serious jeopardy. I jogged, walked, and stopped for the next two miles. I finally remembered to pop an SCAP. At the mile 22 aid station I loaded up on electrolite water.

The next two miles were slow. This was going to be on of the more beautiful parts of the race, and I couldn't enjoy it. I was miserable. Runners were passing by me left and right. At the mile 24 aid station I loaded up on more electrolite and for whatever reason so jelly beans. The nice man at the aid station offered me a banana. My body was telling him "Yes: but my mind told him "No." Not the best idea.

The next mile was brutal. By this time I was fighting a side stitch that would not go away. The cramping had stopped but the side stitch and tired legs were taking a toll.

I trotted up to the mile 25 marker and I stopped. I stared at the ground and told myself the following.

You are tired. You are not running your race. But this is your first marathon so don't be so hard on yourself. Your family is waiting. They are waiting for you at the finish line. They are only a mile away. One small mile. They are waiting to cheer you home. You are not running your race, but you can finish strong.

I took my left foot and dragged a line in the ground. This was my new start line. "Do it! Finish it! Go! Go! Go!"

Off I went. With the side stitch still in place I ran as hard as I could. I passed by a couple of runners. "I'm going to make it.", I thought. I approached more and more spectators. I was getting closer. The wide road turned into a single track. I could hear people. I could see the finish. My pain disappeared. My disappointment disappeared. I was elated and on top of the world. My buddy Scott was there to cheer me on. I raised my arms up as I crossed the finish line.

I was done.

Here are the results:

FINISH TIME: 3:39:39

My family wasn't at the finish line, much to my disappointment. But they eventually showed up and I was happy. My wife and daughter made me a beautiful sign. It's wonderful. I prize it more than the medal I was given.

With the kids and holding my trophy sign!

So I ran a very good 20 miles but was overcome up horrible cramps and side stitch. I had dehydrated myself and had not taken in enough fuel. I know I can run faster. I know I will run faster.

Thank you to all of the people (and there are many of you) that encouraged me on, helped me along and took the time to aid a total stranger. I hope to see you all again next year.

See you on the trail.

Hooray! It's over! Lets go eat!!!