Thursday, December 24, 2009

Wind(Fall) at the Rodeo Beach 50k

Last Saturday it was time to close out the 2009 season with the Rodeo Beach 50k. It was a chance to get one more ultra in (first one since August), to see some trailrunning friends and to once again enjoy the wonderful trails of the Marin Headlands.

The lady would join me at this race and meet me several times throughout the race (all three Tennessee Valley aid stops plus Rodeo Beach at the 30k mark). We got to the start rather early and, as usual, fueled by Peet's coffee. The second I got out of the car, I knew conditions would be tough. A cold and surprisingly strong wind was making everyone put on an extra layer. Brrrr!

Pre-race - all layered up

The course is typical Headlands fare: big hills (nearly 6,000 feet gain) with smooth, non-technical trails and, most of all, breathtaking views. I had provided my lady with an aggressive time-table of splits (5 hour pace; my 50k PR was 5:12). There was really no basis for this other than my race the previous weekend on almost the same course, which gave me plenty of confidence. In general, I was a bit undertrained (no runs of >20 miles since August), but my head was in the right place. And that's usually half the battle.

We took off from Rodeo to Tennessee Valley (TV) via the Miwok Trail. Strong headwinds made the first climb quite a chore. That 5 hour pace seemed ludicrous only two miles into the race. But somehow I emerged five minutes ahead of that pace at TV. Had I pushed too hard?

Next up was Pirates Cove, perhaps my most favorite of all Bay Area trails. It's a single track trail that runs along high ocean cliffs down into the cove and then back up. Crashing waves provide the backdrop. The winds continued to be very strong and made balancing a bit more precarious. Further, the strong head winds made climbing out of the cove along the already steep, steep trail even tougher than usual. Back at TV though, I was now 7.5 mins ahead.

It was time to take it a bit easier to the halfway point at around the Conzelman aid station. From here it's a long downhill back to Rodeo Valley. As usual, I was cruising on this trail. And then BOOM! I tripped and fell. Hard. I found myself with cramping hips, completely disoriented and a bit of shock laying on the trail. Thankfully, somebody behind me pulled me up and got me going again. In a haze, I continued to the 30k mark.

Over time, it became clear that nearly everything was hurting, in particular my right shoulder and wrist, which took the brunt of the fall. Then the wheels came off going up Miwok again. My legs just didn't seem to want to move. I had gone out too hard.

I rolled into TV aid completely demoralized. I strongly questioned how I was going to make it back up the Marincello let alone run another 13k. People were saying things to me, but I couldn't tell you what it was. I was in a complete daze. Five minutes later, I decided to try to walk up Marincello and somehow make it to the top. Moving slowly helped. And slowly I came to. Once I reached the top, I realized that it hadn't taken me all that long and that a PR was still possible. My spirits took a 180 degree turn. Time to get a move on!
The Marincello Trail. Treat it with the utmost respect or it will get you!

I couldn't believe that I got to Conzelman aid at 4:27. Only 6k to go! Could I break 5 hours? Despite the fall, the winds and my less than ideal state of mind? Why not! I seized the moment and ran as hard as I could to finish in 4:55. That's a 17 minute PR. What a way to end the season!

At the finish, I caught up with some of the other finishers and learned of the Nathan Yanko's brilliant performance (3:43:51) beating the blazing-fast Chikara Omine by a whole 13 minutes. It was a very fast field as a whole. A whopping 21 people finished in under five hours. While this may not be the most difficult (i.e., technical) course in the world, it's not exactly the easiest either. Them are some big climbs in the Headlands.

As usual, my thanks to Sarah, Wendell and all the volunteers who braved the elements and pulled off a another sold-out event without a hitch. Can't wait for 2010!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Running with Ken Burns at Muir Beach (18M)

Another frustrating non-race last weekend. Woke up sick the morning of the race. Not good timing particularly with finals upon me. It continued an awkward string of issues getting in the way of my racing this fall. BUT THEN:

I got an e-mail reminder about the Coastal Trail Runs and this weekend's race at Muir Beach. Forgot about those! I promptly decided to sign up for the 18 mile version of the race. It would be a decent warm-up for the season-ending Rodeo Beach 50k and a nice present to myself for finishing my penultimate semester of grad school at Cal.

Some of you may have seen Ken Burns' documentary on National Parks. It's BIG. BEAUTIFUL. AWE-INSPIRING. Of course, the series spends some time talking about John Muir for whom so many natural landmarks in California are named, including the start location of the race.

Anyhow, the show came on the night before the race. I started to watch, of course. And what can I say? It fired me up! Some people watch Rocky for inspiration others watch Chariots of Fire. I watch Ken Burns. (Yes, that's my wife in the background yelling: "Nerd!").

Some of you may know of the anecdote of John Muir sitting through a massive storm on the top branches of a 100 foot tree. I agree with Mr. Muir's sentiment that nature is best experienced during "bad" weather. And that's what we had for the Muir Beach 18 miler: rain and wind.

I bundled up well knowing that I'm not fully recovered from being sick yet. The idea was to get my legs moving at a decent pace for an extended period of time without killing myself in anticipation of Rodeo Beach next week. Jason Reed, who is quite the speedster and runs a LOT of races, lined up for the 18 miler as well. I figured he would win.

We took off and immediately hit Pirate's Cove, one of the most beautiful sections of trail in the Bay Area. You gotta love the sound of the crashing waves while trail running! I was cruising on the downhills but my legs felt a bit weak when going up (perhaps from being sick?). Jason and I hit Tennessee Valley together before he pulled away by a couple minutes on the uphill.

It was windy and raining with increasing intensity. But it was fun playing in the mud and listening to the little creeks that formed on the trails. At aid 2, Jason was about 2 minutes ahead, which I was able to halve on the ensuing downhill. Time to go up again (3,780 feet of gain in just 18 miles means a lot of up and down). Here I ran into a coyote right in the middle of the trail. I stopped and Mr. Coyote started to approach me. Time to whistle and make him move. I had a race to run!

This was also about the time I considered upgrading to the marathon. I wasn't going to catch Jason, but I would have a sizable lead in the marathon race. The switch was something I had discussed with people prior to the race, so I wasn't just being opportunistic! In the end, I decided to keep some juice in the tank for next week. Jason came in at 2:40 and I came in second a little under 2:43. A lot closer than I had anticipated!

As always thanks to Sarah and Wendell and all the volunteers for making this race happen in sub-ideal conditions! It is much appreciated

Onwards and upwards!