Monday, April 27, 2009

Skyline 2 Sea 50k - Simply A "Must Do" Race

Well, you read the title already. That's not just a suggestion, but a strong recommendation. Let's start at the beginning.

My first job of the morning actually started the night before. Mark Tanaka had left for the coast on Saturday to get in a little vacation time with his family and forgotten his shorts. So, I brought all of my clean running shorts not knowing what would really fit him. Mark showed up in Hawaiian type board shorts and generally looked ridiculous. Here's proof:



We had actually never met in person and used the 75 minute bus ride to the start to catch up on everything from running to chess to the swine flu. (Btw, the man is just as funny in person as his blog writing suggests). In general, this race was a great re-union of the ultra-community. I was able to meet so many people I have met in the blogosphere in person (Caitlin, Addy, Mark, etc.), reconnect with acquaintances (Will G.) and get to know new people (Rick, Nathan, etc.). I'm sure, I'm leaving people out here and I'm sorry. The point is that the community aspect of ultra-running was especially pronounced during this race. And I really enjoyed that. On to the race.

Having run my best season so far and facing a course playing to my strength (lots of downhill), my hopes were high for this one. I felt confident that my PR (5:24 - Sequoia) would fall and really hoped to make a run at at a sub-5.

Right after the start

However, the race didn't start well. As at Rucky Chucky, I couldn't get my breath under control on the initial downhills and generally did not feel good. My legs were heavy, and I just felt out of it. Soon I would pay for my lack of focus, missed a turn and kept going up and up instead of down and down. Lost about 12 mins here.

However, this wasn't all that bad, since I snapped back to reality and focused on downhill running. I flew through Aid 2 and arrived at Aid 3 in fairly good shape (about 2:11), but I could also feel the effects of probably going a little too fast in an effort to catch up on my lost time. Time to climb, eat and relax. I took my time at Aid 4, because the next section would be long and I was tired.

Before the slump

Soon after that aid, I missed a turn again and lost another eight minutes. Not happy...and I'm starting to get into a funk, as a sub-five seemed nearly impossible now. About ten minutes later...THUMP!...I run into a tree. Completely dizzy, I was forced to walk for a bit with my head pounding. It just wasn't my day. Severe foot pain just compounded things and the pity party was on. I was limping, cussing and generally not in a good mood. A shame really, because Big Basin is absolutely breath taking. You couldn't really ask for better scenery.
One of the many giant tree formations

Eventually I got over myself, focused on just finishing and picked it up (mile 27ish). Ultra-running is also about getting through the lows. And I did. In the end the effort was enough for a 5:12 finish, probably below my potential but good enough for another PR. And I'm happy with that. Once I got to the finish, my mood picked up even more. It was fun to hang around and talk to people. Smiles were everywhere. No wonder after such a beautiful run!

My thanks to Sarah and Wendell, all the volunteers, and all fellow runners for making this a great day. There is no question that I will be back next year.

(Also, thanks to Addy, Mark and Cal for all the pictures!)

Sunday, April 5, 2009

A Fun Marathon in Marin the title of this race report because "A Spectacular Day at the Golden Gate Headlands Trail Marathon" would have been too long.

There were a couple of reasons for picking to run this race. (1) The lady was celebrating her bachelorette party/weekend, so no coordination of plans was necessary. (2) This weekend falls exactly two weeks after Rucky Chucky and three weeks before Skyline 2 Sea, my two goal races of the spring. This would be a great carry-over long-run at a targeted 85% effort. In order to minimize any sort of possibility of running too hard or becoming too competitive, I ran naked. No, not that kind of naked...just without a watch.

You could tell right away it was going to be a glorious day. Not a cloud in the sky and comfortably cool at the start. The start area was over at Rodeo Beach, and I spent most of my pre-race time watching the surfers catch waves. I knew the course wasn't going to be easy (4,400 feet of climbing), but it was going to be gorgeous (I had run 95%+ of the course as part of the Muir Beach 33k back in December).

Rodeo Beach just before the start

There weren't a whole lot of familiar faces. Only one as a matter of fact. So as we took off and tackled our first major climb of the day, we started chatting. Turns out the suspicion was mutual even though we couldn't quite place where we had seen each other before. Anyways, talking to Nicole Duke was a joy. We share the same values and attitudes towards trail running with the only difference being that Nicole is way more experienced than me.

Start area with our first climb looming behind it. It does go further up to the right.

So, here we were floating among the wildflowers, taking in breathtaking views and enjoying a day on the trails. This is LIVING! I was feeling strong and conversation was good enough for me to change my race goal from "85%" to "stick with Nicole as long as I feel good". We were running somewhere among the leaders and kept gaining ground. By the midway point, there was only one person ahead of us (quite a few marathoners dropped out at this point...we ran two identical loops).

Nicole was determined to win the women's event and woman #2 was right behind us. So, I changed my race goal again "help Nicole win". I held on until Tennessee Valley and the start of the final climb of the day. Climbing on Marincello Trail, Nicole was about 1 minute ahead of me, woman #2 about 1 minute behind me. It was fun to be right in the middle of the action!

Terrible lighting...GREAT trail (Rodeo Valley Trail)

At the top of the climb (and second to last aid), Nicole was leaving as I was arriving and woman #2, let's call her by her real name, Karalee Morris passed me here. I had been battling cramps in my right foot and needed to take in food and salt. For much of the rest of the way I was able to watch the women's race unfold. Karalee had pulled closer on the uphill but Nicole was slowly but surely pulling away on the long downhill and flat sections over the last 6 miles.

Before long I hit the hardest part of the course: the 1/4 stretch in the deep sand at the beach. This section was draining at the halfway point, but at the end it was the sort of brutal section that makes you question the sanity of the race organizers. It was t.o.u.g.h....and I loved it. In the end, I crossed the finish line in 4:16, which was good enough for 4th place overall. Nicole had actually gotten within 30 seconds of the overall win, but a spill at the end put an end to that dream. Regardless, she ran a fantastic race! Well paced and strong throughout.

All in all, it was a perfect day on some of the most scenic trails around. And I made a new friend in the process. What more could you ask for?

(My thanks go to all the volunteers who make such perfect days possible for us).