Sunday, March 29, 2009

Wondrous Yosemite

A set of unexpected circumstances presented me with some free time towards the middle of last week. So what is a runner recovering from Rucky Chucky to do? Check out some trails in Yosemite.

To some people's surprise, I had never been to this most famous National Parks (along with Yellowstone, I suppose). People like Muir and Adams have captured the imaginations of millions describing Yosemite through their literary and photographic talents. Now it was my turn to check it out.

To put it in one word, Yosemite is simply spectacular. It was early enough in the season to where the park wasn't too crowded and it was easy to get away from people. I like my solitude in the wilderness. Here are some choice photos from the trip. Enjoy!

El Capitan

Rock face with snow melt glistening in the sun

My favorite shot: mountains and trees mirroring on the Merced River

Having fun with the self timer. North Dome and Half Dome in the background.

Monday, March 23, 2009

In the Footsteps of Legends: The Rucky Chucky 50k

“The Rucky Chucky 50k is a humbling introduction to the Western States 100 course” reads one of Scott Dunlap’s race reports. That assessment couldn’t be more fitting. Rucky Chucky runs between miles 62 and 78 of the Western States 100 course, which is like playing 3 holes at Augusta National except the eligibility requirements for getting on this course are pretty much the opposite. They go something like this: “You think you can run (any portion of) the course? Have at it!”

In a previous post, I described my pre-race excitement of running those hallowed trails, which had been mixed with a healthy dose of anxiety due to some foot issues. Most of that was forgotten on my 2+ hour drive up. Between sipping coffee and continuously switching radio stations, I was reminiscing about my first ultra, the Oak Mountain 50k, which I had run exactly one year earlier. (read Christian’s and David’s accounts of this year’s event here).

I was one of the first to arrive and had the unusual pleasure of parking 10 feet (literally) from the starting line. My race number turned out to be pleasant surprise as well, since its digits also match my birthday (110). The pre-race atmosphere was relaxed. It was easy to meet people and people either caught up with old friends or eagerly made new ones. I had the great pleasure of meeting Peter Lubbers in person. We have been blogging friends for a couple of years now, but never met in person. (As a side note, somebody needs to come up with an name for that. “Blogging friends” is kinda weird. As is “bliends”). Also, thanks to Peter and his buddy Troy, I've got lots of fun pictures in this report. Thank you!

Peter, who would finish 4th, and I before the race

Discussing the race profile at the start (looks staged, doesn't it?)

This was a small race and I love that. RD Robert Mathis gave us all the necessary instructions (“Follow the pink ribbons or Peter in the bright shirt. Turn around by the river and make sure you tell this guy [pointing] when you get back, since he keeps the time. It may rain depending on how long you’re out there. So, yeah,…3,2,1…go!” There are many reasons why I don’t miss big city races with 52,000 runners (new record!), $150 entry fees and Runner’s World coverage. All I need are some trails, a few runners and some dude who says “go”. Simple.

So, off we were and it didn’t take long before we hit the Western States Trail. Woah! Huge forest, magnificent views of the Sierra foothills and a few thousand feet below us the Ruck-a-Chuck River, our turn-around for the day.

Somewhere near the top

We would be going downhill for about 11 miles or so (save a couple teeny uphills) and the strangest thing was happening to me: I could not get my breathing under control. I was panting and losing my breath over gentle running. Maybe it was the little running over the previous two weeks (15 miles or so total). Maybe it was the altitude (we weren’t high though and altitude doesn’t bother me much). Who knows. That was the bad news. The good news was that my foot seemed to be doing fine (phew!). And once I passed the first aid (8.7) things started to improve with the breathing as well. The volunteers shouted “have fun on the next section," and I was wondering what could await me that I hadn’t seen yet.

Somewhere near the bottom

Flowers. Beautiful, magnificent flowers. Everywhere. Orange, purple, yellow, blue,… Have a favorite color? There was a flower for you. Mother Nature was out there putting on a show, and we were all invited. It was incredible!

An out-and-back course make it very easy, of course, to see how you’re doing half way through the race. To my surprise, I was running in 6th when I hit the turn-around (2:13). That was good enough to get my competitive juices flowing. Number 7 was a minute or so behind me. It was time to push…just I had no juice left. My legs were trashed from the downhill (not good), but a good overall placement and a PR were still in the mix. After some more flower treatment on the river banks and saying my "hello"s and "good job"s to everyone, it was time to head back up. And, boy, was I hurting. I was struggling just to make it to the final aid station, which is no less than 8.7 miles of tough uphill from the finish line. I took my time here to refuel and regain strength. A mix of will-power, salty potatoes and BBQ chips (my favorite!!) was just what the doctor had ordered. I thought a lot about how so many runners have suffered here before. Not just the field, but big names like Trason, Twietmeyer and Jurek pushing for the win. And, truth be told, I was thinking most about Ansleigh. To run these trails unsupported and on a whim...mindblowing!

Shoulda smiled for this one

After some time, I passeed a sign that said “Foresthill 3.3 mi”, so I had about 3.5 miles to go (the finish line was at the other end of town). 48 minutes to break my PR and still in 6th…I was in great shape. Not so fast was what trail quite literally seemed to say throwing the final, massive, steep, painful uphill in my way. I was reduced to walking a lot of it. In the end, I missed my PR by 4 minutes, but still stayed under 5 ½ hours (5:28) and successfully defended 6th place overall. I was stoked! In terms of overall standing, this was my best finish ever, and it was about to rain cats and dogs. Sitting inside and eating cake sounded perfect right about now.

  • In the end, I learned a few things:
  • Despite doing a lot more uphill training, I still have a lot of work to do in this department
  • I love this race and hope to return here next year
  • The Western States course is no joke. Those trails are rocky and fairly technical
  • Birthday cake is GREAT post-run food
  • Driving two plus hours after a race stinks. But an In-N-Out chocolate shake can really improve the experience.

My thanks to the RD Robert and all the volunteers, some of whom braved some serious weather and temperature swings, especially the guys manning Cal2.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Those Mythical West Coast Races

I'm giddy. Really, really giddy. Tomorrow I'll be tackling the Rucky Chucky Roundabout 50k, which means I get to run on the Western States Trail!! It's hard to put into words what that means to me. Ever since I first started discovered trail running a few years back, I have heard about Western States and other famous races out West. Michigan Bluff, No Hands Bridge, Foresthill, Last Chance, Rucky Chucky River Crossing...all those meant something to me long before I ran my first trail ultra.

Me a few years ago

Reading about races like Western States, Miwok, Hardrock and many others captured my imagination. The blood, sweat and tears that go into training and completing these runs were awe inspiring and motivated me to run more and more (challenging) trails and eventually step up to the ultra challenge.

And here I am running on the Western States Trail tomorrow....I AM THRILLED. In anticipation of this race, I have been thinking a lot about what races were really inspiring to me as a novice. Here they are:

Western States 100: The Rose Bowl of ultra-races (i.e. "The Granddaddy of Them All"). It all started here. I don't think I need to say much more than that.
Hopefully my Western States bid won't be as unsuccessful as Cal's Rose Bowl bids...

Miwok 100k: The images and race reports you see and read from this one are without exception epic. I have been fortunate to run in the area a few times now, including Stinson Beach and Muir Beach races. The scenery of the Marin Headlands is hard to beat.

Hardrock 100: I love alpine vistas as evidenced by some of my travels last summer, so I always loved reading the race reports for this one. HOW these people complete that course....well, I really don't know. I still cannot fathom that race.

Angeles Crest 100: The lady is from L.A., so I read these reports anticipating that this may one day be my first 100. We'll see.

The Dipsea Races: Tradition, tradition, tradition (and steps, steps, steps). Another must, especially the Quad.

There are more, but these were the first that came to mind. I feel so incredibly fortunate that fate steared me out here. So, so lucky!

Btw, I am not trying to slight the East Coast races. This post is more about what initially captured my imagination and got me started in this sport. Today, there are quite a few East Coast races that I still want to tackle (I'm looking at you Mt. Mitchell Challenge, Cheaha, Mist, Vermont.....)

Monday, March 16, 2009

Big Smiles

with each step as I managed to run 3 pain free miles today.

I was almost as happy as I was after reaching the summit of Mt. Elbert.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

The (Forced) Extreme Taper

As I am typing this, the lady is out for a 12 miler getting ready for her upcoming half-marathon. What am I doing sitting on my couch typing away a week before Rucky Chucky? Tapering, well, actually I'm resting.

Early in the week, I started experiencing dorsal foot pain. It cut a 10 miler on Tuesday short. Rested Wednesday. Worries of an over-use injury like a stress fracture wouldn't subside. Ran an easy 2 on Thursday...only for my foot to feel sore again. Rest Friday. Rest today (Saturday). Rest tomorrow (Sunday).

It sucks and I'm celebrating a pity party (and doing countless sit-ups to strengthen my core).

Not running makes me feel sluggish and tired. Bleh!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Scenic Sequoia 50k

"I'm really nervous about this one"
They say the most important sleep you get is two nights before a race. Liars! I was already tossing and turning nervously on Thursday night in anticipation of my return to the 50k ranks. It had been 10 months since SweetH20 and with its 5k+ elevation change Sequoia would present a considerably more challenging course than either of my previous 50ks. In total, I was anxious to get to the starting line for about five days.

"Peet's?" - "Sure"
Per our (now usual) tradition, Will and I stopped at Peet's to take in calories in various forms. We were discussing our respective race strategies, and I was wondering whether Will would be able to set a course record for the 30k distance just like he had done at Woodside a few weeks ago. We were also surprised at how nippy it was outside, mainly because of some surprisingly strong winds. What to wear, what to wear? Always a hard decision going into a race. You'd think that after almost 30 years on Earth, we'd having this dressing ourselves thing down.

Mud, Mud, Mud
So, it was a little muddy out there, but nothing too, too bad. I was surprised at the number of people I overheard being annoyed at the mud (which wasn't bad at all compared some other places in the area like Tilden). Really? This is a trail Northern the winter. You can expect to get dirty. And besides, what is better than caked dirt on your calves? (ok, a pint of Ben & Jerry's). They're like battle wounds...except they wash off right away.

The First 15k
The scenery was absolutely gorgeous. Tall Redwood and Sequoia trees everywhere; little creeks created by recent rainfall were dancing down hills. But while the trails were stunning, my legs were heavy. Ooops! What to do? Spend lots of time at aid station #2. And so I did.

The Second 15k
Three minutes at Aid #2 did wonders for me. I found my stride and started passing lots of 50k and 30k runners. As a matter of fact, I wouldn't be passed myself the whole rest of the day. Nice! The surprising thing is that the majority of my rejuvenation occurred on the biggest climb of the day (I'm more of a downhill runner).

The Final 20k
At 30k, we passed by the finish line. I could smell the chili and hear everyone laughing, but the hardest part of the day was still ahead of me. Needed to get out of there fast. Somehow I had positioned myself to run a PR and IT WAS ON! I pushed, pushed, pushed...running by myself most of the way. Once I hit the final aid (Moon Gate), I knew the PR was mine. The question was: what would my time be? I attacked the Cinderella trail as hard as I could. Despite it's unimposing name, it's a steep, rocky mountain bike trail (complete with jumps and everything) that is just painful to fun down with any kind of velocity. I may have been screaming like a lunatic. Can't really remember.

In the end, I finished in 5:24, a 23 minute PR. It was good enough for 19th overall in a strong field with many good performances. 14 people finished under 5 hrs (compared to 6, 4, 0 and 0 in previous years). Local runner Caitlin Smith ran a stunning 4:22 in her first 50k coming in second overall (read her account here). And Will ran another course record in the 30k. I'm worried about what he'll do once he moves up to the 50k (you know it's just a matter of time, buddy!).

Thank you to Sarah and Wendell as well as all the volunteers for putting on another outstanding race. I especially enjoyed the crew manning the Moon Gate aid station for rocking the tunes. Jimi Hendrix rocks!