John Muir Trail

John Muir Trail

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Race Report: 2014 Red Rock 50 Miler

This past Sunday, I headed down from San Luis Obispo, where I enjoyed a delicious few days of Thanksgiving vacation, to the Santa Barbara mountains to race in the Santa Barbara Red Rock 50.  I was hemming and hawing on whether or not to hit this race up because I'm in the midst of a mileage build-up to the Sean O'Brien (SOB) 100k in February, but I eventually bit the bullet and signed up.   It's a gorgeous and tough course (claimed 15.8kft. of climbing and descent!  Shut up legs!), so with a little peer pressure from my friend Victoria, it wasn't a hard sell.

I have a pretty solid base of mileage built up from a 100-miler earlier this fall, so after I recovered from that race, I began building up mileage again in a less-than-structured way.   I dabbled with some speed and hill climbing work, but had lots of rest days and my total weekly mileage wasn't where I wanted it to be.  After I ran the first and last 20 miles of the Red Rock course with some buddies about a month and a half ago, I decided to write up a schedule for SOB and get some weekly mileage goals on the books.  I hit some 60+ mile weeks with some solid climbing and was feeling good about my training.  The Red Rock 50 was not included in this plan, but when I took the plunge, I was confident that I wouldn't destroy myself, though I think I came into the race a little over-trained.


Early on race week, my legs felt blown from a hard week of running the week before, so I took Monday off and went easy on Tuesday &Wednesday to let the legs feel better.  I wanted to run on Thanksgiving, but decided to rest until the race instead (drinking a bunch of beer for 2 days counts as resting, right?).  I guess this 'rest' didn't do me any favors, because I woke up on Saturday feeling super congested with a runny nose and sore throat.  Total bummer.

Not one to be waylaid by some minor health issues, I had a pint of Enjoy By (12/26 if you're wondering) with my SLO hosts on the way out of town, accompanied by a delicious Firestone Grill Tri-Tip Sandwich.  Excellent pre-race food!

When I arrived at Rancho Oso, the privately owned horse camp/ranch camp that the race was to start/finish at, I was greeted by cheers coming from up the hill where the beer mile was finishing up.  I was disappointed that I had missed it, but I later learned that it's a fixture at all of Luis' races, so I plan to be around for the next one.  Luis Escobar, the race director, runs a handful of races in So Cal and all of them are low key, fun, and minimal events.  Highly recommended if you enjoy the backcountry, chill people, and a focus on fun times and hard running.  Good shit.

There's a lot to be said about all the pre-race activities at Red Rock, but by far the coolest was the 4-person guitar jam session that broke out after the pre-race meeting.  The vibe of chilling with other runners, talking running, and listening to yet more runners showcase their non-running talents on the guitars was amazing.  Great way to set up a positive attitude for race day!

Race Day

The race start was at 6am, so I woke up around 3:45 to make coffee and get some food going.  I was feeling pretty exhausted, but I think that after the coffee kicked in, I felt OK.  Another, identical pre-race meeting was held at 5:45am and the race started immediately afterwards.  Hilariously (?) as soon as the runners were sent to the starting line, it started raining.  Victoria says about Red Rock every year, "It's just gonna be a horrible day." Because it's a long, hard 50 miler.  Haha, maybe it's a self-fulfilling prophecy!  I decided to start calling it 'the best day of my life' after Luis told us it would probably be the worst day of our lives (tongue in cheek, of course).  Somehow, in the middle of a hands-on-knees-steep climb to Montecito Peak to get our finishers medallions, everyone that I asked, "Best day of your life!?" seemed to agree that it was.

Anyway, we finally took off around 6:15am into the rain.  I was mid-pack, but decided that I should go out hard to get a good spot on the single track.  This proved to be a good call because I ended up in a group of guys who were all around or a little faster than my race pace, and I only got passed by 2 dudes in this section.  The downside of going out hard is that I had to make a concerted effort to get my heart rate back down to where I wanted it to be, and this meant slowing down, which never feels good in a race, at first.  But it had to be done.

The first aid station is 6.5 miles in, or so, and I rolled in, filled up a bottle with Tailwind and cruised out.  
For the last few races, I've been trying to figure out my nutrition, and I think I may have finally gotten it dialed in.  200 cal/hour of Tailwind (1 sleeve in a 24 oz. bottle), supplemented by a gel or aid station food as necessary to get to between 250 and 300 cal/hr.  It's worked on a couple of fatass runs of up to 40 miles and this far, so good!

From this station, the runners follow a paved road to where it turns to fire trail and then to single track and back to fire trail.  This section was uneventful and I chatted with a fellow runner Kathleen and cruised into the mile 11 aid station with no news to report.  By this time, the runners were pretty strung out along the course, so I ended up with 2 people who were running the marathon and no 50-milers.

The next section of the race consists of about 8 or 9 miles of mostly single-track rollers ending in a 1200 foot climb up to the high point on the course.  It started raining relatively hard, and at times I couldn't help but have a big, fat grin on my face about what an adventure this race was becoming.  I put on arm warmers and gloves under a tree, and flipped my hat forward to keep the water out of my eyes.  I had my first of a couple 'this is why I run' moments before turning up towards the big climb where I looked out over the valley and noticed that all of the leaves on the trees by the river were bright yellow, which created this awesome contrast of a long, snaking, vibrant yellow swath down the valley against the sage greens and browns of the mountains rising up above the trees.  Gorgeous!  

When I turned up the towards the climb, the dirt turned to clay, and portions of the course got super slick.  I had trekking poles with me for 'The Big Climb' (yet to come), so I cracked them out and used them for traction and power up this section.  I hiked about 98% of this climb as part of my race strategy and ended up at the top more-or-less in good shape, ready to tackle the 3000 ft. descent and climb that lay ahead.  More Tailwind into the bottles and I took off.

I'm an OK descender, as normal runners go (my elite friends blow my doors off on the descents!), but I knew that 3000 ft. over 6 miles would take its toll, so in turn, I took the descent at a less-than-breakneck speed.  At Red Rock, Luis makes you earn your finisher's medallion (without it, you can't get a time!) by doing 'something', and this year it involved leaving the Cold Springs trail and climbing a use-trail up to Montecito Peak.  This trail was steep, but luckily not slippery.  At the top were waiting Pat and Amy with the medallions laid out, and some Fritos.  Amy asked if I wanted to leave a note, so I left two for some of my buddies who were behind me.  I got my medallion, which was a handcrafted ceramic medallion on a neck-cord, and started down the hill.  It's worth noting that normally, this peak provides an amazing view of Santa Barbara and the ocean, but today, the fog/clouds were dense and all that could be seen was white.  I ended up descending pretty much the whole hill with a woman, Jade, who I learned was doing her 1st 50 miler (hell of a first 50!).  She was super chill and was a great conversation buddy for the descent and, as it turns out, pretty much the whole climb too.  As we hit about the halfway point on the descent, we started to be able to see the ocean and city, and the sun started to come out!  This provided some amazing views, which made it hard to concentrate on some of the more technical sections of the trail, which at times was super rocky.  I could feel the descent slowly battering my quads and hips but by the time I hit the bottom, I wasn't feeling as bad as I thought that I might!  I filled up the Tailwind, ate some grilled cheese sando, stretched the piriformis muscles and hamstrings and took off for the climb back up the hill.

The whole course is a big out-and-back, so I knew exactly what lay ahead.  After fastpacking the John Muir Trail (JMT) in 8 days this year, I was pretty accustomed to power-hiking 3000-4000 ft. climbs with trekking poles, and this climb fit right into the JMT category, minus about 9,000 feet of total elevation.  I was surprised, but I topped out only about an hour and 40 minutes later (back in the clouds...) and not too tired, but definitely feeling the 31 miles that I had on my legs at that point.  I munched down on some grilled cheese, thanked the volunteers and took off.

My race strategy was as follows: be conservative for 30 miles, then start evaluating whether I should start hammering.  Well, 'hammering' being a relative term for me in an ultramarathon, I decided to treat the last 20 miles like I was on a 20 mile training run.  I rolled the descents smoothly without holding much back, hiked the uphills, and tried to remain comfortable on the flats.  8 miles later, I had seen 1 guy briefly as I passed him, and my legs were starting to feel pretty uncomfortable, so I resorted to a tactic that I've never used before: the iPod shuffle.

Around mile 39, I cracked out the shuffle because I was feeling like I needed a boost after running pretty much alone for the last 8 miles.  My legs were feeling battered, I was a little lonely, and the clouds were still holding out and keeping the lighting flat.  On the rare occasion that I run with music, my go-to tunes are electro dance jams, and the thumping 4-on-the-floor beats are just what I needed to pick me up.  Head bopping to the beat, I finished out the climb into the mile 40 aid station in high spirits, filled up the last of my Tailwind and headed for home.  This meant a fire trail descent into the valley by the Gibralter Dam, the climb out, and then some descending to the paved portion of the course.  Somewhere in here, the sun was setting under the clouds, and creating amazing 'golden hour' shadows and contrasts on the mountains, ridges, and spines.  It was another amazing 'this is why I run' moment, facilitated by some uplifting music.  The music was helping, as were the amazing views, but my legs were fatiguing and feeling more and more uncomfortable.  I was close to the point where I was ready to be done.

At the mile 44-ish aid station, I filled only water, ate some potatoes, and headed out to what I consider one of the hardest sections of the course for me.  I figured that  gel was in order, because I was out of tailwind and had a solid amount of time on my feet to go, so I cracked one out and chomped it down, almost to have it come right back up.  I guess the potatoes weren't done doing their thing yet...haha.  So that ended my nutrition for the run.  That last 6.5 miles traverse 3 or 4 ridges with the associated climbs and descents into the crooks of the valleys between.  There's a lot of varying up and down and changing muscle of groups which is never fun in the late stages of an ultra!  Luckily, the music, plus seeing a runner about a half mile up gave me a boost and I was able to make it to the final fire trail descent, which ends with about a mile to go.  I caught the runner in front of me with about 2 miles to go while rolling the descent, and she was struggling with some IT band issues.  We started chatting and I ended up running with her all the way in including putting on headlamps because we were just about 15 minutes too late to make it in without them. It was awesome to share the final miles and finish with someone after running for so long with nothing but my thoughts (and some sweet tunes!).  We rolled into the finishing area and high-fived after taking a seat on one of the picnic benches.  I clocked in at 11:19:46.


This race was brutal!  My legs were toast and I was zombie-walking immediately.  2 days later and I am still feeling it!  I tried hard to walk the line of going fast, but not blowing up or having to death march into the finish.  Luis warned us that this is not a course to PR on (which, if you look at the elevation profile, is a no-brainer), and indeed I did not PR, but I am pretty stoked on my finish.  Also, they had pumpkin pie, burritos, chile, and other delicious fare at the finish line, which was delightful after not eating anything for the last hour or so.  After I put on some warm clothes, I pulled up a chair with what seemed like a lively group (turned out to be Crista, Pat, Bobby and Michelle, a merry tribe of self-proclaimed Dirtbag Runners) and ended up shooting the shit with them and cheering in runners for another 3 or 4 hours.  Just an amazing end to an amazing day!

I highly recommend coming out to the Red Rock 50 and bringing an awesome attitude, a chair, and some beer to share (and some Fireball if you're feeling will not go unappreciated)!

Race/Game/Run Report: 2014 Coyote Cohort Backbone Ultra

This is one of a handful of race/run reports that I wrote before I started this blog.

This past weekend, I ran the Coyote Cohort Backbone Ultramarathon, a 68-mile trail run in the Santa Monica Mountains in California with ~14,000 ft. of climbing. It was brutal at times, but also amazing at times, as I’m gathering that many ultramarathons are, and overall an extremely well organized, staffed, and executed event.
I raced the North Face Endurance Challenge 50-Miler in San Francisco (Marin) in December as my first ultramarathon race. Afterwards, I was set on not wasting the fitness and base that I had built up that I feel like sometimes happens with drawn out recovery times that are easy to get sucked into. So instead, I plotted out a week of almost no mileage, and began to easily ramp up mileage into hitting full steam in the 2nd week of January. This somewhat worked out, but a drawn out stomach illness killed almost a whole week of what should have been epic vacation training during Christmas time, but I made up for it with 5 days running in the not-so-snow-covered Yosemite over new years.
Upon returning to the real world after the holidays, my plan was pretty simple: get a long run on Saturdays. Back-to-back the run with a decent run on Sundays, tempo Monday, hill repeats Wednesday, and fill in the rest as necessary. This all worked pretty well, but traveling and skiing got in the way of weekend training a lot, and when there’s only really 8 weeks of training, 3 or 4 off weekends means that runs got moved around and the back-to-backs suffered. I felt OK about this, however, because I was still coasting on fitness from the 50, my weekly mileage was still above 50, and my weekly vert was at least in the thousands of feet.
I’d like to say that I topped out with a 35 mile run, but it was kind of a failed run with about 15 miles of death marching. Still haven’t figured out why it went bad. I did the same run minus 5 miles about 2 months ago and smoked it, so I guess it was some combo of nutrition, poor recovery from skiing, and heat. Quads were shot and my body just didn’t want to move...terrible run! This was 3 weeks out from the race. Already at that point I was feeling a little burnt out on running in general: motivation wasn’t there, runs were a chore. So when I had this terrible run, I took the next 2 days off completely and plotted how to get 1 last good set of runs in 2 weeks out from the race. Then the weather report came out that Mammoth Mountain was about to get dumped on, and in the same day, my friend called and asked if I wanted to go, so I took it as a sign: ditch the running and go get some POW! I ran Tuesday/Wednesday that week for a total of 24 miles (6 and 18) and then took off on Thursday afternoon for the mountains. Epic snow and ski session, and my I felt like my mind was back in the game for...more skiing. The next weekend was 6 days off Thursday thru Tuesday for a long planned ski vacation. I got 12 miles in that week. When I returned from this vacation, I immediately hopped on a plane to a conference in Alabama on a red-eye, and returned on the day before the race...I was pretty exhausted! I did not put on my running shoes until race day.
Race Day
So the title says Race/Game/Run Report. The run is billed as a fun run/game: you can earn ‘bonus’ points and/or ‘boner’ points for doing cool/stupid stuff during the run. I don’t know what you have to do be get ‘boner’ points (probably being a jerk) but from what I gathered, ‘bonus’ points come from entertaining aid station volunteers or doing other cool, interesting, or noteworthy things. These points are then converted into time subtraction or addition onto your actual run time. So it’s kind of like a race with some twists.
The race has a 2-wave start. The first wave was at 6am, the second wave was a 9am. I was in the second wave, so I showed up at the finish at 7am where I would get my number, packet, and a large hardcover book (P.D. James’ “A Certain Justice”), which I learned that I was supposed to carry with me, ostensibly to read to the aid station volunteers while they filled up water, etc. That was new, but I was in for all the fun and games, so it went into the vest along with the 5 gels, 5 sleeves of Clif Bloks, 3 bags of calorie drink, 25 salt caps, 2 water bottles and 2-liter camelbak reservoir. I planned the nutrition to get me to mile 25, where my first drop bag would be located. Like the 50-miler, I had planned on about 400 cal/hour between all these goodies and whatever I decided looked good at the aid stations. At 7:45, they bussed us down to the start.
After a brief message and some kind words, they sent us off immediately up a big climb. During the last 6-months, I had run the 68 miles of this race in its entirety in a series of out-and-back runs, so I was at least familiar with the course, and knew not to get ahead of myself. At 9am, it was already in the 60s and heating up quickly.
The race features 3 major climbs all of which occur in the first 30 miles, and 3 major descents, 2 of which occur in the first 30 miles. Combined with the knowledge that it would be potentially in the 90s during the day and my strategy was to keep my pace conservative until the 3 climbs were over and then assess my status.
The first climb was uneventful. I actually got passed by all but maybe 3 or 4 of the 20-ish person starting group (the first starting group had maybe 120 people?) immediately, but I was feeling OK with my strategy so I tried to just motor on. I ended up in a group of 4 people, the other 3 of which were all serious ultramarathoners. They were swapping stories about Ultra Mont-Blanc and other races while I hung on in the rear. Eventually I met them all by name and ran with them until about mile 12 when we separated at the first aid station.
At that point, I filled up water/calorie drink, ate some watermelon, and cruised off towards the next climb (the section of trail that the dreadful 35-miler occured on). By this time, it was heating up a bit, and the climb started to seem like it was going to be brutal. My stomach wasn’t too happy about the gel bloks, and water didn’t seem to be helping. About half a mile in, however, I crossed a ridge and all of a sudden there was a breeze. My heart rate dropped by about 15 BPM almost immediately and I felt immensely better. The rest of the climb was conservative and went well. I got to the top and the next aid by 1pm, pretty close to my target pace of 5mph.
I was offered a shot of Jameson in celebration of St. Patty’s Day in the station, but I politely declined; my stomach probably would have not had any of that business. I was super pumped up from the aid station and the friendly volunteers and cold drink, so I took off up the trail towards the turnoff to the next descent.
This descent is burly. I’ve run in a few times and it never gets easier. It’s technical in a lot of sections, steep, and relentless; about 2300 ft. down over 6 miles with a slight rise in the middle. I made sure to take it conservatively, but even at a slow jog or hike, the heat was like a blow dryer. I’ve watched ‘Running on the Sun’ and I know they use the exact phrase ‘blow dryer’ to describe running in 130 degree heat, so I felt like a whiny bitch thinking that 90 degrees was hot, but nonetheless, it was freaking hot and I was baking. Luckily, there’s some shade on the trail at times, so there was some relief. I made it to the bottom of the major climb portion and passed the first few people of the day. The heat was taking its toll on other runners too.
At the bottom of the hill at mile 25 is an aid station with drop bags. I filled up Heed and water with ice, ate some food and snagged my headlamp from the drop bag. I read a bit to the aid station volunteers and then took off for the crux climb of the course. This climb is steep and often exposed, and is all shitty, wide-open fire trail and occurs right in the hottest section of the day. Right at the bottom of the last descent, I was caught up to my another runner from my wave (who I would later learn is an excellent descender and overall ultramarathon badass, from her UltraSignup profile) and we started the climb together. We ended up climbing the whole thing together and I found out that she had lost her voice from being sick and she was hacking and coughing...probably why she was hanging with me and not smoking the course, haha. I was feeling pretty bad at this point. My stomach was not happy, but I was forcing calories into it, the temperature was hot, and there were 40+ miles to go, so I had both the physical and mental game working against me. Just about the only thing going for me is that I was dumping ice water on myself and my heart rate was staying low.
At the top of this climb is some rolling steep hills into the next aid. Only maybe 5 miles from the last aid. And they had popsicles and quesadillas! I didn’t have a dilla, but a damn sure ate a popsicle and it was delicious! Additionally, they were bumping some grungy reggae from the stereo. Awesome. When I got filled up and snagged some M&Ms and a PayDay bar, I was out the door with my buddy from the climb. Most of the course is single or double track with some shorter fire-road sections in between. Here, the single track re-started, and it gets fun! Winding, not too steep in either direction, down through valleys, over ridges, with trees, bushes, shrubs, next to creek beds, up canyon walls...all just great trail running. Combine that with the cooling temps and I started to feel a little better! It was still light out, maybe 5pm, and I was starting to enjoy myself, but was still pretty wary of what lay ahead: 38 more miles. I took a silly fall on a butter-smooth single track by catching my toe on an almost non-existent rock, but the injuries were a scrape of the hand and knee...not a big deal. The next aid came and was water-only, so I filled up and running badass lady and I took off. More excellent single track went along into the dusk and then dark and my legs started to feel better and better. The next aid was 6 miles up and we made it there with no major issues. A couple of my buddies were waiting about half a mile out and ran in with us. They had a chair set up and were ready with Red Bull and calorie drink. I tried to snack on a burrito at the aid station, but it was a little heavy for me, so I passed it off to my buddy and got back on the trail for more epic single track, this time in the dark.
The lights of the city/late dusk highlighted the mountain ridges and the full moon was rising in the was amazing. The single track climbed steadily up to a fire road that would connect us to the next single track section. Overall a really nice climb because it wasn’t brutally steep as it had been earlier. On the fire road, I saw ahead what I thought was the headlamps of 2 conferring runners. But they blinked out, and then blinked back on a few feet away and I knew immediately what it was: a mountain lion! I kept my lamp on it (about 50 yards away I would guess) and it ran up the near-cliff wall of the fire trail and I watched it’s bushy tail disappear into the bushes. I kept looking up and seeing it’s eyes gleaming back at me, until they stopped appearing anymore as we moved on. Just in case, I picked up fist-sized rock, not that it would do much good against a big cat, but it felt nice to have anyway. I continued to check back over my shoulder and even walked backwards with my buddy guiding me for some way, just to be sure it wasn’t stalking us, but it didn’t want to come hang out with us as much as we didn’t want to hang out with it, so all was good in the nighttime trail running world.
The next 5 miles were a mile of fire trail and 4 miles of single track which was, again, really gorgeous trail. My running buddy was starting to feel pretty bad from being sick, and suggested that I go on, but I told her I’d run into the next aid with her. She’s tough as nails and wasn’t going to quit, but she wanted me to run my best race. I believe the words I used to describe her to her face were ‘Stone Cold Badass’. She’s definitely an inspiration to get out there and smash trail!
The next aid station I got a great surprise. A few more of my buddies unexpectedly came out to cheer! They surprised me on the trail before the aid station and then ran in with me and hung out while I resupplied. It’s such a mental boost to have an unexpected pleasant occurrence! They aren’t much for running, but their support and good vibes was amazing! This aid station was at mile 51, and I was surprised how good my legs felt! My pace was much slower than the last 50-miler I raced, so that’s probably why, but I was calculating how hard I could hammer for the rest of the race anyway. There was 1 steep and short climb left, and one slightly longer but not very steep one.
I said peace out to my buddies and the woman who I had been running with and mashed up towards the climb. It’s really not that long, but it felt shitty. I was running solo now, which lead me to question whether or not I had been getting a mental boost from my running buddy. I decided that it was just the hill talking and didn’t think about it again. At the top of the climb, I stretched briefly to relieve some of the tension in my hamstrings and calves, which had, except for a few brief twangs, felt unbelievably good all day. I then headed off down the trail which soon levels off into slight ups and downs along the ridge until the final larger descent which is about 5 miles of descending and 2400 ft. down. I had passed 2 people since the last aid station who looked OK, but sounded grumpy when I talked to them. I think they were feeling the heat from earlier. I hit the descent, which I have been down maybe 3 or 4 times in training, and started cruising. The game plan was to hike anything steep and run anything else. When I said that my ‘legs felt good’ in the aid station, I meant it, but it was a relative term. They felt pretty fresh and did not hurt, but they were definitely still beat up. Trying to run the steeps, even though there was ‘only’ 15 miles left to go, wasn’t going to happen. I must have been doing something OK, because I started passing a lot of people from the 6am wave. I said hi to everyone, and a lot of people responded in a pretty chipper manner, but some were beat down and not happy. I was never really sure what to say other than, ‘hang in there, dude!’ I’ve been that smoked before and it’s not fun.
The descent consisted of 2 parts: the Chamberlain Trail and the Blue Canyon trail. The Chamberlain Trail comes down to a ridge, and the Blue Canyon trail leaves the ridge and dips into a valley towards the aid station. Chamberlain Rock is this split rock on the trail, and I had heard that new runners of the race are supposed to climb through the crack and be ‘rebirthed’ without our sins. I know that sounds like it has religious overtones, but they call it ‘Butt Rock’ and how the ‘Butt will cleanse your sins’, so I’m not so sure they have any kind of motivation other than being kooky and fun. Either way, I took of the vest, climbed through with minimal damage and then finished the Chamberlain trail. By the time I got to the bottom of Blue Canyon, however, the inside of my right knee had started to hurt, almost like a pulled muscle. I was super worried that here, 10 miles from the finish, that I was gonna have to walk it in. After about a minute of walking though, I gave up on that stupid idea and started running again. The pain went away and didn’t return and I cruised into the aid station at a respectable clip.
This is the last aid station, about 8 miles from the finish, and it’s in the bottom of a valley, so while everywhere else had been a nice 60-65 degrees, it was down in the high 40s or 50s here. I was soaked in sweat in lycra shorts and a running shirt. By the time I had filled my water and eaten some potato and salt, I was freezing. I took off fast, too fast, in order to try and warm up. The valley is a nice false-flat downhill, and I was pushing hard to stop chattering from the cold. I knew it was only about 2 miles or less to the trailhead to climb up the hill and out of the cold air. This hurt, and I paid for it. By the time I started climbing, my legs were very unhappy with me. The climb is 2 miles or so, but only about 700 ft. up and I did the whole thing by full moon light! This was a small victory, because I felt cashed and knew it was gonna be a sufferfest because of that 2 mile push through the valley. The singletrack climb finished and dumps out onto a rolling fire road that traverses the ridge to the final single track descent of just under 3 miles. I met a lady at the top of the climb and we hiked together for a while, but when the fire road turned downhill and I tried to run, she actually did run and I got left. The legs felt like they had gas left in them, but the pain made it tough to string together long sections of running. I finally ran/walked my way to about a mile to go, and ran the rest in to feel like I finished strong. It was 3:20am.
Post Race
After the race, I sat down in a chair and had a cup of ice water. I put on a jacket and pants and put my head in my hands for maybe 10 minutes before my running buddy came cruising in! She looked pretty good, but I bet she was glad to be done.
I went over to another chair by a fire pit and fell asleep for 2 hours. When I woke up at 5:30 I was cold and ready to get in my sleeping bag, which was a solid quarter mile away in my car. Ugh. I got up to walk and 2 dudes, Willy and Pete, helped me get myself together. When I got too dizzy to walk, I sat on the ground and Pete got me a pancake. I instantly felt better and we walked the rest of the way to the car, which Willy had offered to move a little closer to the park gate. I slept for another 2 hours and drove home...pretty much slept on and off the whole day...what a day!
I was really pissed off at myself for running so hard in the valley at the end. It wrecked me and I finished feeling awful. If I could go back, I would have snagged a shell and/or arm warmers from my crew at the mile 51 aid station and been able to handle the cold. This would have helped me immensely and maybe I wouldn’t have hammered so hard.
Otherwise, I feel like I executed close to perfectly. I kept it conservative in the heat and I’m glad I did. I hiked when I needed and ran when I could and was really happy with how I felt towards the end of the race, minus the last 5 miles or so. What I need to work on is my climbing. I’ve been working on it hard, but I live in the flats, and there’s just no substitute for getting out into the mountains every day. Moving is on my to-do list, pending real life agreeing with it.
My GPS watch died about the time that I started running on the final mile or so, which was lame because the Garmin 310XT claims a 20 hour battery life, so it should have had at least an hour left on it...bummed but oh well.
As I said before, I was shooting for 400 cal/hour. It’s a lot. My stomach was pissed off at me a lot, but surprisingly, I think the Gel Bloks were the culprit on this day. Once I switched to gels only I felt
great less bad. If I hadn’t been traveling the day before, I may have tried to make some bean and rice burritos or something to change it up, but overall, I think the gels will be in the plan for the future.
I took a SaltStick cap just about every 30 min. This was necessary. I drank 8 2-liter camelbaks, and about 14-16 water bottles of either water or water with calorie drink/heed. I don’t know exactly how many bottles because one of the bottles (CamelBak podium chill insulated bottle) was an almost dedicated dousing bottle during the hot portions of the day.
I had bits and pieces of aid-station fare: watermelon, orange slice, pretzel, potato, M&M, etc. but most of my calories were either Gu or Hammer Gel. The Hammer Gel was race provided, and I have to say that I may try it out some more. I really enjoyed it and it sat well in my stomach, even though the packet opening system was a failure and often resulted in almost gagging on the stem of the bag trying to get purchase with my teeth to squeeze the gel out!
I think that’s it. Lemme know if you have questions, comments, thoughts about my training/racing strategies. I’m always interested to hear what other runners have to say!

Race Report: 2013 North Face Endurance Challenge San Francisco

This is one of a handful of race/run reports that I wrote before I started this blog.

I raced the North Face Endurance Challenge 50-miler this past weekend. It was a blast and a great race for my first 50. Below is the full gamut of race report and stats.
This was an interesting year for my running. I spent the first 3.5 months of the year ramping up for the Boston Marathon, which was a great experience despite the mayhem that ensued about an hour after I finished. I re-qualified for Boston by 1:13 (3:03:47) but after a week of hearing about how everyone wanted to race in 2014 to support the marathon, I wanted to get this faster. This led to me trying to race the San Diego Rock ‘n Roll Marathon 7 weeks later in hopes of decreasing my time a bit to ensure my entry into the Boston Marathon for 2014. I was recovering fast from Boston, but with 3 weeks to go until San Diego, my hip started aching badly and my training was suffering. I raced SD anyway and ended up with a 3:10, but I knew it was too soon and my interim training hadn’t been what it needed to be. Oh well.
I signed up for Santa Rosa Marathon with full expectations that a month off of running seriously would heal me and I’d have a last ditch chance at breaking 3 hours and also essentially guaranteeing myself entry. I was wrong. A month later (July-ish) I still had some hip issues. I saw a chiropractor for all of June and July, which didn’t help much, so I decided to give PT a try. I began seeing a therapist and noticing slow but steady results. As it turns out, I had some muscle imbalances, that when allowed to run free in a repetitive motion sport, caused some motion issues that pressed some nerves in the wrong way. I now have a gamut of exercises and stretches that are part of my post-run or rest day workouts that are designed to keep me moving healthily.
My PT gradually allowed me to start running through late August (I skipped Santa Rosa Marathon) with minimal hills. I knew this would not fly for racing a 50-miler with 10,000 ft. of climbing, but I tried to be patient.
By September, I was back in the swing of things. I hit a 50-mile week with 3000 ft. of climbing and felt pretty good, but I wanted to top out at 70-80 miles with 10k ft. vertical. My basic plan at this point was ‘no flat runs unless you’re recovering’. So I was hitting steep hills, hill repeats, and longer runs with vertical. This turned out to be a bad move. My body was not ready to go headlong into vertical mode on most days of the week, and my hip issue started to peek it’s head out a bit. I realized I had been ramping mileage and vertical for 5 weeks with no rest week, so I immediately took a rest week with minimal to no elevation gain and mileage somewhere in the 30s. I drank some beer and entered the following week feeling great!
This set me up in a somewhat awkward place, however. I wanted to begin tapering with 3 weeks to go, which meant that I had 4 weeks to train before then. This is longer than a standard ‘on’ block in a training cycle (usually 2-3 weeks on, 1 week off, repeat), but I decided to go for it. I also restructured my weeks.
Instead of ‘no flat runs’, I decided that I needed a few key workouts centered around climbing, and the rest filler and recovery mileage to help move on to the next key workout. Each week would feature 2.5 key workouts. The first workout was hill repeats. I have a hill set near my house that allows a ~7.5 mile workout with 1200 ft. of gain over 11 hill repeats. Perfect weeknight intensity to build up some hill chops. The second workout was the long run with vertical. I started with 20 miles and 4000 ft. vertical and worked up to 30 miles with 7000 ft. vertical. The last 0.5 key workout was a mid-long run on the day following the long run. I called this ‘running on tired legs’. It’s a pretty common feature in the ultramarathoner’s game plan, and is designed to help the runner learn to perform on legs that are smoked (which would prove to be invaluable!). The mileage breakouts for the long/mid-long runs for this 4-week block ended up being 20/8(oops, short! Legs were cashed hard and felt bonky), 27/10,30/10,30/15. I topped out at 73 miles in a week in that last week.
‘Taper’ was pretty much a week with reduced mileage but appreciable intensity, followed by 2 weeks of very little mileage and some high intensity sprinkled in. Hill repeats 2.5 weeks out, 15 miles with 5000 ft. vertical 2 weeks out, and the rest is history. I arrived at race weekend feeling well rested and ready to smash some hills.
Race Weekend
Packet pickup is on Friday and the race is on Saturday, so I arrived on Thursday night in San Francisco. I’ve been pretty on top of my diet lately (read Racing Weight!) but the week leading up to the race, I pretty much told myself ‘no portion control’ and just ate when I felt hungry and ate a lot. This worked out quite well, because, despite the reduced mileage, I was starving all the time for some reason! I ate a bunch of chips and guac and some chicken pasta the night before the race. I was super full, but I knew I’d need it the next day.
The weather report had been hemming and hawing on whether it would rain on Saturday or not. First it say 0% chance, then it said 30% chance with 90% chance at 4am (race at 5am), then who knows. I prepared for the worst: pouring rain and 38 degree temperatures. Luckily I packed for these contingencies because that damn weather man, that dude sometimes just can’t get it right!
Race Day
Race Day started at 2:40am. I got up and ate bagel and peanut butter and 2-cups of coffee. Packed a banana in the pocket for later. I got all my gear on/packed and headed to the race around 3:30am. When I stepped out the door, other than it being ass-cold (for coastal Cali) the first thing I noticed was stars! Not a cloud to be seen above, which meant the storm had cleared through in the night. Awesome. The race parking and shuttling setup was a breeze and I was at the starting line in no-time at all. I dropped off a drop bag at the bag tent and went to warm up at the many fires/heat lamps that were scattered around the expo area. I checked a jacket and pants for afterwards and then lined up to run with about 10 minutes to spare. My race kit included:
Long sleeve base layer, running shirt, arm warmers, wind shell, beanie, headlamp, tights, shoes, gaitors, lightweight gloves.
The temperature at the start was quoted on the internet as being in the high 30s, but it felt WAY colder. Good thing I brought layers!
The start was pretty low key. I was in Wave 2, which is behind the elite wave, and started 1 minute after the gun. At 5am, it’s dark out, and everyone was required by race rule to wear a headlamp or carry a flashlight until an hour after sunrise, which would happen at 7:12am. I looked down at my Garmin and my HR was at 114...way high! I double checked with with artery in my neck and it was reading correctly! I don’t know if it was the cold, or if I was super amped (didn’t feel like I had race day nerves), but either way, nothing to be done.
The horn went off and Wave 2 proceeded out. There’s a short, 20 yard slope and then a flat and downhill road to get the runners away from the festival and out to the trails. My game plan was to keep my HR under 170 on the climbs, and under 155-160 on the flats and descents. I purposefully didn’t have a pace data field on the watch in order to keep me from getting tempted by pace. Once we hit the trail it was a gradual climb over a couple miles and then a gradual descent back down another trail to make a loop. I was feeling kind of hot on the climb, so I unzipped my wind shell partway, but then started to feel cold. I was really confused by what my body was telling me, so I just ran through it and hoped things would settle down. This first 5-or-so mile loop passed uneventfully. Very little hiking necessary and my pace was pretty solid (see pace data below). Met a couple dudes, cashed some water, ClifBloks and Gu.
My nutrition plan was for 400 cal/hr: Half a water bottle of Gu Rocktane Endurance Drink, a sleeve of Bloks, and a gel. I knew I’d get tired of this, or my stomach would, so I also had stinger waffles and whatever else was available at the aid stations. Already I could feel my stomach wasn’t too happy with the amount of gel-food that it was receiving, but my hydration was good, so I figured as long as I didn’t throw up or cramp, I was OK. I also had a bag of 20 salt-stick tablets with me. Game-plan was 1 every 30 minutes.
The first aid station was at the bottom of the loop, so I filled water and headed for the next climb. On the next climb, I hiked more than the first, but still not that much. There were slightly steeper sections than the first climb, but nothing of note. I was very wary of burning too many matches early on, so I focused on not getting caught onto a faster runner’s heels and just climbing on my own. This climb dumps the runners onto a pretty cool single track descent into Tennessee Valley where there’s another aid station. I was able to settle on a nice rhythm on the descent, but when I got to the bottom, I could feel that I had taxed my legs a bit with the pace, but wasn’t sure exactly how I should change it up, because slowing down felt harder! The aid station was lit up with flood lights, and the volunteers were hooting and hollering and it was an overall cool station. Loud and bright and excited! Topped up on water, and headed out down the valley towards the 3rd climb. This climb was shorter and was more like a bump in the course to get us over the hill and down to Muir Beach. The descent to Muir was pretty cool. Mildly rocky single track for part, and open fire trail for part. Again, I focused on running my own race. I remember looking back down the coast from the top of the hill and seeing San Francisco’s west coast lit up in the lightening darkness, it was the first of many awesome views of the day. I cruised into the Muir Beach aid station feeling pretty good again. Snagged a cracker, filled up fluid and made another Rocktane mix, and headed out. This is where the crux portion of the course begins. There’s a short bout of single track, a run across a field, and then an 1800 ft. climb up through the Cardiac Aid Station to Pantoll Ranger Station. This climb is always fun, and I’ve raced on it before. It’s gradual enough that I could get a rhythm going with some other guys and we were cruising up it well. I ended up passing these guys at the turn to the ridge after probably 1000 ft. of climbing, and rolling on my own for a while. The sun was coming up and I managed to get my sunglasses out of my bag without stopping. I hiked some of the upper portions of the climb, especially into Cardiac where it steepened up a bit. At this point, I was behind on nutrition plan, but doing well on hydration. The nutrition plan was starting to go out the window because my stomach was not having any of it. As other ultra runners probably know, it’s kind of a battle between ‘Shit, this feels really bad’ and ‘I need to eat or I will crash and burn hard later.’ Again, I figured as long as I wasn’t throwing up, I should just deal with the shitty feeling and mash down calories as necessary.
My parents were waiting at Cardiac and yelled at me and took some pics. Was pumped that they decided to come out and hike around while I raced! I had a drop bag waiting at Cardiac, so I dumped my headlamp, grabbed some more nutrition, and headed out. What’s nice about the Cardiac aid station is that you cross it twice, so you can double-duty your drop bag. At the time, I thought I grabbed too much nutrition out of the bag, but I ended up eating almost all of it by the time I returned, so I guess it was OK. I think I grabbed 3 sleeves of Bloks, 3 gels, 2 stinger waffles and 2 ziploks of drink mix.
After cardiac is a brief climb to Pantoll, followed by rolling single track for the next 7 or so miles. This was great until the out-and-back portion on the Coastal Trail. The pros were already on their way back (some had even finished the out and back already) and so the runners heading out were constantly having to jump up on the steep hillside to get clear room on the narrow trail. This was the right way to do it, because a lot of the time, the other side of the trail was a steep ravine, which could be dangerous to step down into to clear space. I ended up in a 10 or so person line of guys all running the trail. One lady said ‘Whoa, now that’s a Boy Caterpillar!’, lol lady. This single track ended at and aid station where I mashed down some hot broth and grabbed a handful of pretzels for the road. I got back on the trail and ended up with the dudes who I’d race the next 28 or so miles with. We made it back to the Matt Davis trail, where it happened my parents had just walked up to and managed to get a group of volunteers to cheer for us! The group turned the corner and began the cruise down the descent to Stinson Beach, which consisted of a lot of wet, slippery, wood stairs and trail. I remember thinking at this point, ‘Shit, my stomach feels way too good right now, I better take a gel.’ Haha, I think I was right though! I felt great the whole was down the descent! I put my legs in ‘neutral’ and felt relaxed a smooth all the way into Stinson Beach at mile 28, probably right around where that Gu was kicking in. Here, I stretched out, mashed more pretzels, drank more broth, filled up on fluids, packed my shell into my ultra vest and started the climb up the Dipsea trail back towards Cardiac. The dudes I was with had already gone out, but I caught them soon and we climbed the Dipsea stairs in a pack. If you don’t know, these stairs aren’t the most fun portion of the race. Check out mile 30, below. 722 feet of vertical in a mile! Haha! It could have been worse, I think many of us have climbed worse, but there were some choice words going around amongst some of the other runners.
Luckily, after the stairs there is a smooth climbing ridge with EPIC views of the ocean, the headlands, and San Francisco! Always a pleasure to hit that view after climbing those stairs! This ridge led right into the Cardiac Aid Station, where I picked up the rest of my nutrition, ate more pretzels and prepared for another big descent. I put my shell back on thinking it would be cold on the descent, but after bottoming out, I was super sweaty. I didn’t account for this portion of trail being on the inland side of the ridges, so there was no ocean breeze/wind. I took the shell off and packed it away for good.
I caught those dudes again on some stairs, and climbed with them for the rest of the way up the 5th climb of the race (I divided the race into 8 noticeable climbs). These dudes were hilarious and were joking the whole way up, so it was nice to cruise with them. The first half of the race I was singing ‘The Neighbourhood’ in my head because it happened to be on when I was driving to the race, lol. I remember this whole section of the race, but it kind of blurred together. There’s a lot of nice climb and descent, and some good cruising sections of single track as well, but nothing really eventful happened here. At one point near the top of the climb, I was feeling light headed and a little woozy. I’m not sure if I was dehydrating, or overheating, or what. I toughed it out to the aid station and dumped water all over my head and had a few big gulps and a salt tab. This seemed to take care of it. I was still thinking that I might have some fuel left in the tank come mile 40, so I was enjoying keeping it conservative.
The next aid was at mile 36, and I got more fluid and had some Clif Bloks. This was followed by a short climb on mostly stairs, which I hiked. At one point I came up a set of stairs and was 6 feet from a deer on the side of the trail. She was just staring at me and looked really beautiful, stock still. Apparently the deer are unphased in Marin, because I kept running and she did not move an inch. At that point, the trail pretty much cruises through a valley out to Muir Beach again. The guy leading our group of 4 decided that flats are free and upped the pace a bit. We got a little time back, but I could tell my legs were getting tired! More salt tabs, more gels, more water.
Muir Beach pretty much marks mile 40 and the home straight of the race. The only problem is, there’s about 2000 feet of climbing in the home straight, starting with a 1000 footer coming off the beach. We were trading leads and hiking/running as necessary, but the pace had fallen off, and I could sense impending ‘survival mode’ running on tired legs. Good thing I ran all those runs on tired legs in training!
The climb from the beach was uneventful, but our crew was joking pretty hard and hollering and overall making a scene. Yelling “ON YOUR LEFT!” became a joke because the steep climbs were so slow, haha.
This climb dumped onto a steeeeep descent to Tennessee Valley. This descent sucked! I was getting a ton of toe-bang in my left shoe, my knees hurt, I was stiff...overall was not feeling great in my body, but my head was in the game and my attitude couldn’t have been better, so I was OK with pounding myself down into the valley. I tightened my shoe at this aid station, took one more fuel-up and it was hike/run the relatively benign steepness of an 800 ft. climb, 200 ft. descent, 200 ft. climb to the final descent. The descent to the finish is the same one we came down on the first mini-lap of the race, so I knew it already. It was a good one to cruise on. At about mile 48, I started feeling really good, almost fresh! I picked up the pace and ended up dropping a sub 8 minute mile 49 and kept that effort level up through the finish. My newfound buddies hadn’t been able to match my final pace, so I waited for them in the finishing area and we celebrated like mad men. I was pumped! My final time was 10 hours 16 minutes.
Post Race
After the race, I ate a bit of food, but more so focused on getting my jacket and pants on because it was COLD. Calorie deficit makes it that much worse, too. I ate some chicken, and pasta that the race provided, but after getting my shirt, headed for home to eat a burger and put on some compression tights. My legs were wrecked for a day afterwards, but seem to be recovering pretty well now.
I’m pretty pumped with my results. I really didn’t know what to expect, so finishing up close to being cashed out was just about perfect. I know I’ve got some things to work on, namely, more vertical. Lots and lots of it. But otherwise, it was a good first showing at the 50-mile distance for me.
I welcome any suggestions or comments on anything! I’m new to the ultramarathon game, so tips, pointers, etc. are always welcome!

Race Report: 2013 Boston Marathon

This is one of a handful of race/run reports that I wrote before I started this blog.

A little late with this post, but I stretched my trip to Boston into a week long trip and followed it up with a music festival (which, incidentally, has helped my leg recovery!), so I am just now making it back to a computer. Here's the usual race report (aka giant wall of text) for the few major races I do a year, enjoy!
I qualified for Boston 2013 at Santa Rosa marathon in August 2012. This left me with ~7.5 months to recover, re-base, and ramp up mileage leading into this month. I decided to go with a 4 month buildup (16 weeks) which left me with 3.5 months to recovery and establish a solid base again.
Recovery from Santa Rosa included essentially nothing. I ran once a week for 2 weeks and then 2-3 times a week for another 2 weeks. No watch, no pacing. Always nice to have some unstructured running time!
After recovery, I wanted to ramp up to 50 mile weeks until December, so I pretty much ran 20, 30, 40, 50 and then held 50 until Christmas time. I tracked my distance, but didn't really track pacing except for weekly tempo runs with a group I run with. Again, lack of structure was pretty nice that far out from a race. I hurt my back a little bit playing golf before xmas, and then skiing a bunch on it in the ensuing snow storms (powder!! Worth it!), but I was back on the horse in full swing by new years.
The 16 week buildup (now 15), loosely followed the Pfitzinger 18/70 plan (18 weeks, 70 miles peak). I was already at 50 mpw, so jumping into the plan 3 weeks after it was designed to start was not a problem. I say 'loosely followed' because I re-structured to plan to conform to weekly tempo runs with a run group and Saturday long runs. Everything else fell out of that.
As usual, I had a couple of key goals for my training:
  1. Miles. I wanted to hit 70 mpw and feel good about it (I think most 50 mpw runners could run a shitty 70 mile week and feel pretty wrecked by the end). This meant diligent ramp up with multiple weeks in the mid 60s and high 60s through February and early March.
  2. Hills. Boston is known for crushing runners in miles 16-20 through the Newton Hills and Heartbreak Hill. I wanted to feel pretty strong at the end of these hills because I knew a strong finish would be necessary to make up for the pace drop on the ascent. To add hill strength, I would run hill sprints (10-20 seconds x10) to finish medium length workouts, I ran my long runs on as hilly terrain as I could find, and I added some pure hill workouts with lots of 2-4 minutes hill climb efforts.
Additionally, I added some upper body (13-15 rep x3 sets) lifting once a week to get a little more endurance and pop out of my arms.
A typical week would look like this:
  • M: Tempo, 8.5-12 miles with 3.5-7 miles at pace.
  • T: Recovery 5-6
  • W: Moderate 8-12
  • Th: Recovery 5-6
  • Fr: Moderate 8-12
  • Sat: Long 17-24
  • Sun: Moderate 5-10
Taper plan was pretty simple: 40, 30, 20 miles per week. I am pretty relaxed about taper, so it ended up being like 38, 28, 15. Most of the runs consisted of 1 mile warm up, marathon pace running, 1 mile warm down. Taper started 21 days out, and I had big tempo workouts 19 and 11 days out before I stopped anything faster than marathon pace. 4 days out I did nothing but easy runs to stay loose, and I also previewed Heartbreak Hill and the preceeding Newton hill to get an idea of how hard they are (surprisingly mild, but opportunely placed for a decent amount of pain in-race).
I got dropped off by my Aunt's family at the State Park in Hopkinton at about 7:45 am on race day to take the shuttle to the starting area. Much preferable to taking the bus, so I've heard. I was able to wake up at around 6am as opposed to 4am to get to downtown and catch a bus.
I sat around for a while, did about a mile warmup jog with some pacing in the middle, and started to make my way to the starting line at around 9:15. By the time I had dropped my bag off and prepared it was about 9:45, so I only had to spend about 15 minutes in the corral, which was nice.
When the gun for the pro-men went off, it took me about 2 minutes to cross the starting line (I was in wave 1, corral 4).
The first 3 miles of the race were pretty uneventful. I was worried that I was caught in the crowd and going too slowly (started at over 7 minute pace), but after a bit the crowd started to pick up and the first split was an acceptable 6:52. Coming down the hills and seeing the road packed shoulder to shoulder with runners as far as the eye could follow was pretty amazing. Such a big race!
I ended up finding a dude that I raced with at LA Marathon last year and said what's up. We cruised together for a while, but he started to fade about 12 miles in (I guess he was injured for a month or so), so I didn't see him again.
The rest of the first half was actually pretty uneventful as well. I was worrying a little about my legs because they felt so heavy, but I resolved to run by feel and not break myself to early. I wanted to hit a 1:28 first half but ended up at 1:30:05. This was a bad sign for hitting my goal time of sub 3:00:00, but I wasn't gonna go all-or-nothing at Boston, so I was OK with it. Running through Wellesley was pretty insane, I could barely hear because of all the yelling from the girls, but it was the first of many sections that were amazing from all the crowd support.
Miles 13-15 were a little rough and I'm not sure why. Perhaps my nutrition was a little lacking through there, but I'm not sure.
Mile 16 is where the Newton Hills start. I had some family at the Washington Street overpass who handed me some liquid calories (Gu Rocktane Endurance Drink) which I drank over the next 4 miles. The hills themselves were not too bad. I slowed my pace for fear of blowing up (hill chops were as-yet untested), but I ended up running 7:18, 7:21, 7:05, 7:19, 7:29 through the hills and up Heartbreak Hill.
At the top of Heartbreak Hill, I checked the clock and I realized that I would have to run ~6:20/mile pace to break 3 hours, which was not happening. This was a little disappointing, but also relieving, because I knew I could still hold out for sub 3:05 (re-qualifying time). The other thing that felt great was that my legs felt decently strong and I was able to hold 6:49 averages from there until the mile 25 marker.
EDIT: Clarity. Thanks Seydar!
At mile 25, I could feel the wheels starting to come off, but I knew that 1.2 miles to go was nothing I hadn't hammered through before, so I hammered it out averaging about 7:15/mile for the remainder, crossing at 3:03:47.
I tried something new this time around: 2 shot bloks 30 mins before the start, 1xGu 15 minutes before the start, and then 1 shot blok per mile until mile 10, followed by liquid calories at mile 16-20. I drank water at every water stop and it certainly helped me avoid stomach cramps from the shot bloks. I also took a SaltStick Tab at mile 5, 10 and 15.
EDIT: I ran with one of these and I highly recommend it. Sat comfortably under my singlet and held the salt tabs and 4 sleeves of shot bloks comfortably and tightly, so there was no bouncing as with pockets, or chafing like with fanny packs.
My overall impression of the race was incredible. The crowd support was insane. Better than any race I've ever done, because they are pretty much non-stop for 26 miles. The race was impeccably run, and the value was high (great expo, a pre-race dinner, and a post-race party (cancelled), all included in the race fee). The chance to run on such a storied course was also an amazing experience, and I felt lucky every step of the way.
The comraderie at the finish line was completely unexpected. At a race where there are more than a handful of serious runners finishing at 3:00-ish, it's awesome to talk it out with everyone who had been feeding off of each other in the final miles.
I ended up being nowhere near the bombings, as I had finished and was on the subway when it all happened, so I was pretty much unaffected. I think we can all agree that what happened was terrible, so I'll limit my comments to running related topics. My post race was completely thrown off by the events that occurred. Normally I process my race over and over again to figure out what to work on for next race, but I'm just now beginning to think about what to work on over the summer. I hope the other runners who did not get the stellar race experience that I got will get another chance to run the Boston Marathon and receive an official time/finishing experience.

Run Report: 2012 - Grand Canyon - Rim to Rim to Rim

This is one of a handful of race/run reports that I wrote before I started this blog.

I ran Rim to Rim to Rim yesterday. For those not familiar with it, it's a 42 mile out and back run on the South and North Kaibab Trails of the Grand Canyon in Arizona with ~11000 ft. of ascent in it. swarmthink has a great run report of it which, though I had planned on doing it at some point, gave me a push to go run it this year.
My basic loose plan was, 6 mph downhill and 4mph uphill for a total of 8.5ish hours. I say 'loose' because every ultra runner I have talked to says that for a first ultra of a distance significantly longer than 26.2, one should have no goal pace in mind, so I wasn't going to hold myself to this pace, but use it more as a nutrition and time planning guide.
The Loadout
I started off at 6:30am (Cali time) as the sun was coming over the horizon and immediately realized that the steepness of the trail and the mild technicality of it was going to knock me from 6mph to something like 4mph. No big deal, I left myself like 2-3 hours of daylight time to work with. The weather was High of 50(ish) and low of 15 (degree F).
Sunrise from the South Kaibab Trail
The trip down to Phantom Ranch (the camp at the bottom of the canyon) was uneventful. I filled up water and headed for the top. During off-season (now), there is no water on the North Kaibab trail nor at the trailhead, so I knew I needed to make it up to the top and find water at the Backcountry Office, which serves water year round. I was power-hiking anything greater than a slight incline, and ultra-running (ie slow jogging) anything flatish.
A buck at Cottonwood Campground

Nutrition-wise I had planned 4000 calories for the day, and was going to snag some extra candy bars at Phantom Ranch on the way back if I needed more, so for 9 hours this worked out to like 450 cal/hour or so. As of 9 miles up the 14.3 mile North Kaibab trail, I was on-plan for food and drink, except that I was consuming more water than expected.
Even though I had 3.1 liters of water with me, I blew through it all in about 9-10 miles and was starting to get dry mouthed and thirsty. This isn't a great thing to be happening with 5 miles and 3700 ft. of climbing to go up to the top, but I hammered through without, trying to eat what I could, but failing at eating much. My pace slowed considerably over these miles and I think this point of the run set me up for some pain down the line.
When I hit the North Rim, I headed up the Bridle Trail to search for the Backcountry office, because I couldn't remember quite where it was. This lead me on a 3.5 mile goose chase through silent, deserted, freezing campgrounds and lodge-sites before I located it (because I neglected to realized that there were signs for it on the road, but not on the trail...shit, about 3 miles wasted up top...whoops!). This was interesting, because it was literally deserted, not and animal or person around and everything was eerily still and quiet and cold (North Rim is at 8500 ft.), kind of like a horror movie. At one point, I was contemplating whether to find the nearest tourist site to get water, or just risk the technical descent down to the river and bottle dip (~5 miles, or 14 miles to purified water) But luckily, I decided to run back to the trail on the road and I found the water, filled the bottles, drank, filled again, ate, and headed out. This took about an hour or so, but by 1pm (Cali time) I was headed back down the hill. I felt quite good on the descent, but overall, I had definitely underestimated the toll that the descending would take on my quads. The eccentric loading was brutal! I rolled into Phantom Ranch 3 hours later at 4pm, grabbed some water and headed back up the South side of the Canyon.
Sunset from the North Kaibab Trail
I had not planned for darkness (gave myself a 2 hour time buffer for mishaps), so I had no headlamp. Being that I'm surefooted and ready to finish, I chose to head up anyway and deal with it. I was hitting great pace even though my legs were screaming at me, because I wanted to get the run done. Unfortunately for me, I was unable to continue at this pace once it got pitch black. I was quite concerned about falling over the edge into the canyon (this shit happens and people get lost and/or die this way every year!) so I slowed it down to a crawl (not literally) to make sure I could get my feet planted and stay upright. About halfway up, I realized that perhaps I could use the LCD on my camera as light. This worked well enough, and my footing got better. About the same time, (top of the switchbacks, near Skull Point), the wind started howling (or maybe I just got above the protection of the arret I was climbing). At 6000 ft. and 15 degrees, the wind is cold. Windbreaker and hood went on and I continued. This is where I really started feeling the effects of the dehydration/nutrition debacle from earlier in the day. I was having trouble consuming enough water to stay satiated, additionally, I was again having trouble taking down food of any kind (had bean/rice burritos, clif bars and honey stinger waffles). So by the top of the climb, I was exhausted. Drained from climbing, and drained from focusing hard on footing and whatever nutrition I could manage. Finally, in the bitter cold and howling wind, I made it to the top.
At the top, normally there's a bus, but it's winter, and there's no bus after 6pm, so I had been counting on running to my car (since I long before had realized that my time goal of 3-4 pm finish was out the window). I refilled bottles, and trudged my way to the car on battered legs. Ended up at about 48 miles in
13 13.5 hours.
So what happened?
First off, my climbing is just not up to par for this run. I have been working on it for months, but not enough. I plan to up the weekly vertical to maybe 10000 ft. and continue working the squats and lunges.
Secondly, my descending, while technically solid, was not up to par. Need more work on the quads to take less of a beating from the eccentric loading.
Thirdly, running out of water, even if it's only 50 deg. out, is not an option. This shot me because I spent about 4 miles climbing and 3 miles finding water where I ate and drank basically nothing. This deficit made it hard to be able to eat and drink enough over the next miles to recover because my stomach was not happy about any of it.
Fourthly, should have brought a headlamp, but didn't to save space in the vest. If I do it in the winter (ie no water and short daylight) again, I'll bring one.
It was exhausting, physically and mentally, because of the situations that I put myself in, but it was a good first foray into the world of ultra-marathon distance running, and I guess I couldn't have it any other way, because I love to get into epics (even if this time, I was pushing the limits a bit terms of margin of error for injury or mishaps on the way up the South Kaibab, which was essentially 0). If you've got the chops, I highly recommend the route! I've been backpacking the Canyon for 12 years now and I will definitely be back to do R2R2R as I wanted to!
If you guys with more experience at these distances want to throw in some advice, feel free. Though I'm a relatively quick (3 hour) flat-land marathoner, I am a trail running and ultra-marathon distance novice and could use the knowledge.

Run Time:
  • 1:28 - Phantom Ranch
  • 5:29 - North Rim Arrive
  • 6:18 - North Rim Depart
  • 9:37 - Phantom Ranch
  • 12:34 - South Rim
Other selected awesome pics:
Cool rock/falls area in Bright Angel Creek - North Kaibab Trail 
Muav/Redwall Amphitheater

Supai Tunnel - North Kaibab Trail