Monday, June 22, 2009

What a day at the Angel Island 16k!

For two days now, I have been on a high from my experience at the Angel Island 16k. Sitting in the northern part of the Bay, Angel Island is east of Berkeley, just south of Tiburon and north of the city. You can see it from all of the major bridges (Golden Gate, Bay, Richmond) and from many of the trails here in the northern part of the East Bay as well as the Marin Headland. In other words, you see it A LOT. The Angel Island races (8k, 16k, 25k, 50k) were an opportunity to finally check this gem out from up close.

It's the one marked with an "A". (Thanks, Google!)

This race was a family affair for me. The lady was ready to take on her first Bay Area trail run (8k), my friend Will (fresh off a sizzling 2:32 at the L.A. Marathon) was ready to once again compete in the longest-distance-that-is-not-an-ultra category (25k in this case). He has three wins so far this year (I like to brag on him :)). Finally, his friend Pete was ready take on his first trail race (25k). With a 2:53 at L.A., Pete is very fast himself. I would compete in the 16k. Friends would join us throughout the day to picnic.

Having taken a bit of a breather since the Skyline to the Sea 50k, this race was supposed to be a litmus test to see how much fitness I had lost with all those 20-30 mile weeks and countless miles of travel over the past couple of months. The minimum goal was to break 90 minutes (otherwise I would really have my work cut out for me with the upcoming schedule). I would be happy with a time in the low 80s and thrilled to beat 80 minutes. Secretly, I really wanted to break 80 mins.
View of the city from Angel Island.

The race started out with the steepest section of the day. It wasn't very long, but intense enough for me to completely lose my breath. Similar to the Rucky Chucky and S2S races, I had breathing issues from the onset. However, running somewhere in the top 10, my legs felt really good, so I just motored along. I definitely got the "no way he can keep up this pace" look from people as I passed them. Maybe they would be right.

Or maybe not. Because once things flattened out a bit, I got into a good rythm and started to feel very good. At 37 mins, I passed the half way mark. Not a bad time for a hilly five miler. Five more to go, which tops out at at the highest point of the Island, Mt. Livermore (788 ft). I was happy to go back up, because the views of San Francisco, the Golden Gate and the Marin Headlands were absolutely spectacular! Really, it doesn't get much more stunning than this in terms of views. What a beautiful place Angel Island is!

No introduction needed.

Of course, this second major climb really would decide how well I was going to hold up. Soon, I saw a fellow runner about 50 yards ahead of me. Slowly but surely, I was able to reel him in. Just below the summit I passed and offered to "work together." He said something about "dead legs", which gave me a psychological boost, since I was still feeling good (my legs were tired, but definitely not dead). Didn't see many runners coming down from the summit (well, only one) and thought that I must be running somewhere in 6th or so place, which would be my best PCTR finish so far.

Then it was time to tackle the final downhill, which is my strength (I think). We were running into the back of the 8k race. Passing several dozen people on a narrow single track definitely led to some precarious situations. Lots of "on your left!"s for sure. All of the sudden, a fast moving runner appeared about 30 or so yards behind me. My goal was to keep him at bay, but he was flying. Eventually I happened upon a slow runner with headphones blearing. I literally had to stop and tap the dude on the shoulder, so I could pass. That was enough time for the other guy to catch up. He was faster anyways. Had him within sight the whole way in, but couldn't quite catch him without risking life and limb flying down the trail.

It didn't matter. Crossing the finish, I had reached all my goals. And then some: 1:17:53! Good enough for 3rd overall. The way it worked out, we all finished around the same time. The lady killed it and surprised herself (as I told her she would) with a strong, strong 49th overall at the 8k. So, so proud! Will won the 25k and Pete finished strong in 3rd overall. What a day for this crew!

We had set up a little picnic and enjoyed a few more hours of hanging out, throwing the football and, of course, eating. Also met friends old and new (hello, neighbor Brian!). A perfect day on the Island on easily one of the most scenic courses around. Thanks to Sarah, Wendell and all the volunteers for another perfectly organized race. We'll be back!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Mid-Year "Off-season" and Upcoming Races

Even before my final race of the spring season, the Skyline 2 Sea 50k, I started feeling a bit sluggish. It had been an intense (by my standards) race season with 150+ miles of racing in just 11 weeks. That's definitely more than I had ever raced before. It was also my most successful (half-) season with a couple of top-10s and a couple of PRs (spread over four separate races).

Give me a break! It's off-season. That means "eat ice-cream" where I'm from.

With my trip to Chile as well as a bunch of other travel (Pittsburgh, Vegas, Atlanta...phew!) looming in May and June, life has been pretty busy (oh yeah...I had finals, too!). May/June always looked like the perfect time to rest.

That's an Argentinian steak, Chilean wine and a Californian carnivore

I need the rest. Physically and emotionally. My runs have been very short (except for two 17ish mile efforts) and relaxing. Then last week it happened: I got a little spring in my step. My legs feel strong again! Without even thinking it, I easily ran 40+ miles this week (including some mountain running at high altitude. Not bad for "off-season." In all, I will have probably run around 250 miles during seven weeks of downtime, which officially ends June 15. (It's "official," because I say so!).

With that, I have also started signing up for a bunch of summer/fall races. Here is what's on the plate:
  • Angel Island 16k (June 20) - My first weekend back in the States. Nine miles...sort of like a long sprint. The lady will be running too. So will Will.
  • Sequoia 30k (July 18th) - I know the course and plan to run hard. This should also be a good long-run getting ready for the following week.
  • Salt Point 50k (July 26th) - Looking forward to running 50k's again. This can't come soon enough!
  • San Francisco One Day: 12 hour (Oct. 24) - A timed race will be a new experience for me. I do have a little adventure planned around this though, which the RD has already approved (thanks, Sarah!). More on that later.
  • California International Marathon (Dec. 6) - Haven't run a road marathon since 2004. Me thinks that the 3:47 PR should fall on this fast course. Curious to see how well I can do on the road after my five-year hiatus.
Other races under consideration (likelihood of me entering in %)
  • Pacifica 30k (5%) - July
  • Headlands 50k (30%) - August
  • Santa Cruz Mountains 50k (90%) - September
  • Dick Collins Firetrails - Marathon (75%) - October
  • Dick Collins Firetrails - 50 mile (15%) - October
  • Carmel Valley 50k (25%) - October
  • Rodeo Beach 50k (15%) - December
I may throw in another short race in November in order to get ready for CIM. I don't really know how to look those up efficiently anymore though. :)

And, yes, all races have been cross-referenced with Cal football home games...GO BEARS!

Monday, June 8, 2009

Running in Beautiful Buenos Aires

While down here in Santiago, our group decided to go on a weekend trip to Buenos Aires, Argentina. It's just as far south as the capital city of Chile, but on the other side of the continent, which means that the flight is a little over an hour: perfect for a weekend trip!

Practice your geography skills!
(and, yes, I'm really far from home)

As we were planning the trip, my friend C points out this "perfect" tourism tour for me: Urban Running Tours. As the name suggest, this isn't your ole' see-the-city-from-some-double-decker-bus, but a personalized running tour of the key sights in Buenos Aires. Sign me up!

Normally, the tours are about 10k. But I'm not normal people (and you are probably not either if you're reading this), so I contacted them to see whether I could combine several tours into one. That wasn't a problem, despite the crappy weather. It just meant that I got passed off like a baton between two guides. This allowed me to get two different perspectives on the city. Cool!

The guides were very knowledgeable and answered all the questions I had. Another cool thing about the tour is that they take pictures of you with the sights. Some of them you can see after the jump.

So, next time you find yourself in Buenos Aires and want to see the city in an active way (without breaking the bank, btw), you know where to go!

I forget the name of it, but that statue behind me is supposed to represent all the flowers in Argentina. It also closes at night, which this geeky runner finds pretty cool!

This park was donated by Los Alemanes and I had to pay my respects. The guide did not immediately know where the American counterpart was. I wish we could have made it here, too, because I unquestionably would have done the same thing there. :)

Looks a like Hamburg here in this picture. The building in the background to the right that looks like the Plaza Hotel in New York...that's the headquarters of the Argentinian military. Wouldn't have guessed that!

Women's bridge in the background celebrating all the achievements of women (cool!). The shape is inspired by the tango. Argentinians are really into design (clothes, building, furniture, etc.).

This is a suspension bridge and therefore bouncy as heck. Also, if I hadn't tilted my heads and arms ever so slightly, the picture would have been nearly symmetrical.

(There were more pictures, but my connection is not exactly speedy).

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

An Interview with Caitlin Smith

Catlin Smith has exploded onto the national ultra-scene this year. After easily winning her first ultra on her hometown trails at the Sequoia 50k, Caitlin made a name for herself on the national stage by winning the ├╝ber-competitive Way Too Cool 50k and a string of Bay Area ultras and remains unbeaten at the 50k distance.

Please talk about your evolution as a runner and how you got into ultrarunning.

I grew-up dancing, but in sixth grade the track coach insisted that I try running. He told me I was a distance runner and that I should try the mile. Ummm, yeah, 100 meters and I was literally out of breath and walking. I think I ran the 4x100 relay that year at a few meets, insisting that I was NOT a distance runner. In high school I continued to run track. Once again I had a coach that tried to get me to run farther and during workouts she would always have me run more miles than everyone else. It was in high school that I joined cross-country and truly started running farther and enjoying it. My track coach from sixth grade saw me out running one summer, pulled over, rolled down his window and said, "I thought you weren't a distance runner?" I just had to smile. I slowly started to really fall in love with running and obviously I've been doing it ever since. I ran two marathons, one in 2002 (Grandma's) and the other in 2003 (Boston). When I moved out to California that is when I found trail running, my escape from the chaos of city living. I ran my first trail run in 2006. I did a few more in 2007. A ton of 20k's in 2008. And, then bumped it up to 50k's and beyond this year. That's my evolution to ultrarunning.

It is widely known in the community that Will Gotthardt acts as your mentor and coach. How did this relationship get started?

Will ran behind me in a few races last year. He was doing the 50k's while I was doing the 20k's. We would find ourselves chatting here and there. He told me I would do really well at the ultras, which I had on my agenda for 2009. Then at the beginning of this year, Will gave me a ride to Pacifica, seeing that I don't have a car. My 30k didn't go so hot. I bonked in the last few miles and I had to walk a ton. On the ride back, Will told me that water, electrolytes, and fuel were going to change that (and yes, they did). I had a lot of doubt about my abilities and the transition, but Will really believed in me. His best question, "you know you're fast right?" My response, "umm well" (which pretty much means “no”). We started training together and he got my splits figured out for my first 50k, Sequoia. Ironically, I came in faster than all my splits and ended up passing Will during that race (neither planned, seriously). Now, we continue to run together and push each other. We're also just good friends.

Caitlin and Will Gotthardt

You have won not one (Way To Cool) but two (Miwok) automatic entries for Western States. However, you have decided not to enter. Tell us about your decision and whether WS is a goal race for you in the future.

I am not ready. My goal this year was not to do Western States. I just wanted to try ultrarunning. There are several reasons for my decision, but mainly I want to be prepared mentally and physically for that race. And, when I do run it, I want to run it really well. I think it will be a race in my future, but again not until my heart and body are in it 100%.

What does your average training week look like? What are you favorite cross-training activities?

I don't think I have an average training week. It seems to vary, somewhere between 60-90 miles. Some weeks I run 7 days, others more like 6 (as I learn that resting is good), and sometimes 5 with races and so forth. When I go out and run, I try to just pay attention to how my body feels. When it feels like going fast, I run fast and when I am dragging, I take it easy. I tend to follow the hard-easy rule. If you run hard one day, then next day you take it easy. As for cross-training, I don't own a car, so I walk and bike to work. I swim. And I practice yoga and pilates.

Please talk about how important yoga is to your running.

Yoga has transformed my running. My breathing, focus, flexibility both mentally and physically, awareness, and joy have all blossomed with yoga. Also, I tend to be a go-go kind of person, so yoga balances me out. It slows me down (at least a little). My yoga practice always reminds me how grateful I am to have a body that can move and run.

What are your favorite foods for training and running?

Ummm yeah, Clif Shot Bloks are basically a staple and honestly, I haven't found much else that works while I am actually running other than chocolate milk. I really like these things called Suncakes for pre-race meals along with yogurt and cereal. Overall, I am a vegetarian minus cheese, post-vegan, and possibly future carnivore. I just eat what my body craves and try to mix it up.

What runners do you admire?

All runners, really. Of course there are some that come to mind too like Bev Anderson-Abbs, Kami Semick, Ann Trason, and there are some guys on the list too, but I'll keep those to myself.

Caitlin competing with one of her idols, Bev Anderson-Abbs, at Way Too Cool

Do you have any advice for other runners looking to make the jump to ultras?

Be patient and consistent, listen to your body, have fun, be social, do yoga and pilates, cross-train, sleep, take naps, eat good food, rest, believe in your body and mind, find a training partner, breathe, swim, bike... and of course there are logistics, so talking with someone that has done one makes the transition much easier.

The SF Bay Area has a plethora of tails. What are your favorite trails/parks?

French Trail in Redwood Park is my ultimate favorite trail. [That sucker is hard. – The editor]. I love running and tend to run a lot in Redwood, Tilden, and Chabot, but put me on any trail and I am happy.

Caitlin finishing her first 50k (Sequoia)…beating the blog author by a solid hour in the process :)

What is your favorite race and why?

I try not to pick favorites and just try to enjoy them all.

What are your running plans and goals this fall, next year and in the long run (pun!)?

After Ohlone 50k [which Caitlin won in CR time this past weekend – The Editor], I am going to focus back on some shorter runs, which are part of La Sportiva's Mountain Cup. The finale of this year will be the North Face Endurance Challenge 50 miler. There is also potential that I will do the TransRockies run in August. But if not this year, possibly next.
Do you have any dream races?

Not a race, but I'd like to run across the United States via trails, ideally no roads.

Thank you for your time, Caitlin, good luck and keep smiling!