Lactate (In)tolerant

October 2, 2014

My, how time flies when you’re running. I could have sworn it had been 2 weeks since I last posted, but it’s been 3. A busy 3 weeks, apparently. I would consider myself mostly fully entrenched in Koop’s (Carmichael Training Systems – http://trainright.com/) plan. It’s taken some adjustments, but overall, I’m really happy with him as a coach and with the plan. Right now, I’m focusing on lactate threshold which means lots of tempo runs. The tempos he has me running are different from your (or maybe just my) usual tempos in that they’re broken up with periods of rest. Sort of like long fartleks. I wasn’t sure of my feelings on them at the beginning, since I’m used to think of a tempo more in the sense of: 8 mile tempo. Go. The difference with the mindset that I find accompanies that sort of workout is that you may go faster than you should (because it means you’re done faster), which isn’t always a bad thing, but when you’re trying to accomplish something in particular, it might actually work against you. With the time-oriented tempo, you have to run the whole time. If you go faster, you’ll go farther during the interval, but you won’t run any less time. It really makes you conscious of how you’re pacing the workout because no matter what, you’re going to run the 40 or so minutes of tempo. With the set distance, I’m often tempted to run faster to get it over faster. And I’ve come to really like the breaks between my tempos, not just because I like rest intervals, but because I can tackle each tempo interval as its own beast because I know I’ll get some recovery afterwards. If I put myself in the hole too soon, I have less time to suffer through it and can reset on the next repeat. That’s not really the case with the longer tempos, where I usually end up stopping early if I dig too deep too soon.

On a slightly different note, I ventured up to Folsom this past Saturday and ran in the Willow Hills 5k XC race. It was a nice change of pace (harharhar) from the tempo work I’d been doing, and despite the fact that I did 3 tempo intervals before the race, I was able to move a bit faster than the intervals on a punchy course. I was more fatigued than I would have been had I lined up fresh, but simply being back on the start line energized me. I will admit to looking for opportunities to power hike during the race, but managed to keep my hands off my knees. I did run into a big tree branch about ¾ of a mile from the finish, which wasn’t ideal, but it was quite superficial and didn’t bleed much, which was about as good an outcome as I could have wished for. Then, on Sunday, DBo and I had a nice 20+ mile run on the mountain. It’s my longest run since Western States and I had no issues whatsoever with my legs, which I will admit wasn’t much of a worry heading into it, but I still want to acknowledge it because for a while there, anything above 15 miles was treacherous. I did have a wart removed from my pinky toe 2 weeks ago and that has been a bit of a nuisance as it heals, but I know it’s very superficial and it’s getting better so I can deal with it until it’s back to 100%.

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Willow Hills XC Start (why are we running so fast?) credit: Dayu Tao

Looking forward, I’ll be doing a similar workout to Folsom this weekend – 3 tempo intervals and then racing the Presidio XC race on Saturday. My next longer race is the New York Marathon, on November 2. I won’t be doing any real marathon prep work for the race, but I am interested to see how this training will have me feeling on race day. I’ll be doing more tempos between now and then, and will start incorporating some back-to-back workouts which I imagine will be rather fatiguing, but I’m excited for it. It’s great being back on a plan. I didn’t realize how much I’d missed it.

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Cha-cha-cha-changes

September 11, 2014

For the moment, things seem to be back on track. I’ve been pain free (knock on wood) since I started running again a week and a half ago. The Mt. Tam Hill Climb was the biggest challenge to my legs and their health and everything worked great. I ran a PR for the route (34:19) but was again unable to stay with Galen, as he pulled away fairly early on for a win in 33:30 or so, I believe. My goal (aside from winning) was to stay within a minute of him, so I was pleased. I was also convinced at the top that I had run faster times in previous years, but a perusal of my running log upon returning home proved me wrong. So I’ll take the PR. The rest of the day was spent eating and drinking and hanging out with friends on an absolutely beautiful Labor Day. Thanks to Ryan and Sarah for taking this race over and ensuring its survival, and to everyone else who was out there helping. It was a great event and I can’t wait for next year.

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Reaching for the door at the Mt. Tam Hill Climb. Please note, it doesn’t count as a summit if you don’t touch the door.

Last week, I focused on upping my mileage. I kept the intensity low because, well, you really shouldn’t raise intensity and volume at the same time, and I didn’t want any more setbacks. I spent the weekend in New York/New Jersey with Rachelle for Abby and Rob’s wedding. It was a lot of fun seeing friends I hadn’t seen in a couple of years and I managed to make it home to SF on Sunday without being too tired or hungover. However, I will say that running in NYC in the summer can be brutal. On Friday and Saturday, it was 85+ degrees with a ridiculous level of humidity. My shoes squelched both days within 8 miles (gross) and I had to cut my planned 20 miler short to 17 miles on Saturday because it was so hot and humid. Also, don’t bother running in Central Park on the weekends. There are way too many people there. I’ll be sticking to the waterfront in the future.

The biggest news, however, is that this week marks my first week working with Jason Koop from Carmichael Training Systems (http://trainright.com/). He comes highly recommended and I’m really excited to see what I can do under his guidance. The hardest thing for me (and I can already tell after 1 official day of following his training plan) will be letting my daily training be dictated by someone else. Ever since college, I’ve been in more or less total control of my training. I’ve decided how far to go on easy days and long runs and now those decisions are being made for me. I’ve had great coaches since then (Carl and Jack most notably) and have done workouts with a seasonal goal in mind, but the plan Koop is putting together for me is longer-term in scope. It’ll be quite different from my training methods in the past, not necessarily in the workouts themselves, but in the duration of the phases. I’ll be working on honing one aspect at a time over several weeks before moving on to the next phase. Instead of looking for results in 2-3 months, I want them to show up in 8-9 months (guess where). Already, I can tell that the plan (not the running itself) will take some getting used to. Looking at a calendar and seeing every day planned out for weeks ahead is a little daunting, but also a relief. I don’t have to think about what I’m doing any given day. I just do it. I take my rest days when they’re scheduled (something I am notoriously bad at) and having someone to oversee my recovery after longer races will be a huge benefit, as I often try to come back too soon. Seeing the schedule laid out in advance will give me a better feel for what we’re trying to achieve with each workout and week. It may also mean that races I originally wanted to peak for have to be run at less-than-peak, but that’s part of the plan. It doesn’t mean I won’t run well at them, it just means I won’t be targeting them in and of themselves. In the words of Dana Carvey as George Bush: “Stay the course. A thousand points of light.”

And speaking of politics (this isn’t about to get deep, trust me), seeing as today is September 11, maybe take a second and reflect. That’s all.

And a few more pics from the Hill Climb for good measure…

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Brett and Galen with Bon Tempe and Pilot’s Knob in the background (north side)

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So many bros

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It’s a nice view from the top (credit: Hal Rosenberg)

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The Big Stapler bringing it home

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Squamish DNF and some bike riding

Thursday, August 28, 2014

As you may know, I DNF’d at Squamish a couple weekends ago. Rachelle and I flew into Vancouver early Friday morning, headed to her apartment, and went for a run. I felt pretty bad. My knee was a bit tight, my hip bugged me, and my lower left leg was really out of whack. I was hoping it was due to the 3:30am wakeup for the 6:30am flight, but still had my doubts about what the next day would bring. She and I drove up to Squamish that afternoon, got settled in, and had a great dinner with Brian, Ethan, Kim, Justin, Destiny, Dylan, and Harmony.

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Before the Start. Credit: Brian McCurdy

We woke early again on Saturday morning to get down to the start. Rachelle was a course marshall at miles 7 and 28, so she dropped me off and headed back out on the course to direct us. I wandered around a bit in the cool but humid morning air and after a few trips into the bushes, we were off. I neglected to tie my shorts before the start, so about 100m into the race, I had to stop, put my handhelds down, and tie my drawstring, as the shorts were around my butt, laden with fuel for the day ahead. Once I had that sorted, I made my way up to the front of the group. The first 6-7 miles were almost completely flat, with some singletrack, fire roads, and paved roads. We hit the trails around 7 miles in and I was just behind the lead group of 5 or so. The first big climb separated us a bit more, but it was the descent where things got interesting. Many of the trails have boardwalks/ladders built into them that allow you to traverse either particularly wet or nasty segments. Coming down a steep set of switchbacks, I found myself at the top of a maybe 6ft tall ladder on a steep slant. It was wet and I had a feeling I was going to slip. And slip I did. My right foot went out from under me and somehow I managed to get my left leg down, but my toe got caught between two of the slats, leaving me in mid-air with just the toe touching the ground (caught). I got my right leg back under me and came down hard on it, but stayed on my feet. I immediately noticed that my IT band had tightened up. Nothing debilitating, but it was making its presence known. I continued down the hill and eventually, things flattened out. We hit the 2nd aid station about 12 miles in and Gary and Bryon were there, cheering, telling me that I was 2 minutes off the lead group, and that we had some runnable terrain up ahead.

In hindsight, I should have dropped right then, but having folks cheering for me clouded my judgment and I after a brief stop at the aid station, I continued on. Over the next 2 miles, my leg got tighter and I found myself giving up mentally. I didn’t want to run 35+ more miles on something that hurt like this and eventually the only decision I had to make was whether I should drop now and hike back to aid station 2, or continue to aid station 3 and drop there. As my stride became more labored, I decided to quit while I was still feeling somewhat OK and hike back. I knew that Kim was crewing Ethan and would hopefully be at aid station 2 and thought that I might be able to hitch a ride.

As I hiked back, I saw several familiar faces (Chris, Matt, Luis, Joseph, Ethan just to name a few) and many new ones. Some folks were concerned, and asked if I needed help. I appreciated the thought, but assured them I was fine and continued to make my way back towards the aid station. At one point, a volunteer directed me on to a road and said it would be an easier walk back, so I took that route and thankfully saw Kim, Justin, and Destiny, driving towards me within a couple of minutes. They stopped and I asked if I could hitch a ride. They were kind enough to take me to the finish line to pick up my bag, and then to Starbucks where I met Rachelle’s mom who was driving up to visit Rachelle where she was posted at mile 28. By the time we got there (which was truly the middle of nowhere) the first couple runners had come through. She and I cheered as folks passed through and passed the lulls by throwing rocks at various targets and hitting sticks against trees.

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Rachelle’s course monitor station at mile 28 of Squamish 50

Once the sweep came through, we were free to go. She headed up to get the car, but returned shortly thereafter saying that a bear was between her and the parking lot. Thankfully, some mountain bikers who were driving up to the lot were able to give us a ride and we got to the car without further issue. The rest of the day was spent at the brewery with Dylan, Harmony, Bryon, and Meghan. We had some interesting conversations and I had the revelation that trailporn.com is indeed also run by Bryon. I am an idiot.

On Sunday, we slept in, watched some of the finish of the 23k and 50k, and then headed up to Whistler to spend the afternoon sitting on a lake with Rachelle’s family and some friends. It was fantastic. On Monday, I went for a gorgeous run around Whistler and hit some trails and my IT band/knee felt surprisingly good. The rest of the week found me running normally, with a tempo on Thursday. I planned for my long run on Saturday to take me on some of the Headlands 50k course so I could spectate and everything was going well until I hit 13-14 miles in. I stopped to visit with some friends at an aid station and when I headed out again, my right knee just locked up. I could hardly walk for a few minutes and had to hike a half mile or so before it loosened up. And then I was able to run home relatively easily. I don’t understand what’s going on with it, as it feels fine 95% of the time, but in an effort to get it from 95% to 100%, I’m taking several days off (6 days total from Sunday to Friday) from running. I’ve been biking this week and it’s been… different. I’m planning to start running again on Saturday and do the hill climb on Monday and hopefully be good to go from there. We’ll see… New York is Nov. 2 and I’ve got a lot of work to do if I want a shot at my PR (and 2:20).

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Alta Lake looking up at Whistler Mountain

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Trails on a cyclocross bike can be bumpy

On a final note, I’d really like to thank Gary Robbins for his (and all of the volunteers’) hospitality and the fantastic organization of the Squamish 50. The course was just gorgeous and I’m quite disappointed I couldn’t run the whole thing. I will be back in the future for sure. Perhaps for the 50/50. Who knows…

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A Break from the Pain (hopefully it’s permanent)

Thursday, August 7, 2014

                I may regret these words in the very near future, but I want to say that recovery has finally ended and training has begun again. On July 27, I lined up for and started the SF Marathon. Looking back, I see that one of the reasons I was pushing to get back after Western was because of this race and Squamish, which is in 9 days on Aug. 16. It took me a while to realize that while I wanted to run these races, I didn’t/don’t feel any real compulsion to do well in them. That being said, I will always give my best effort, but I knew that I was not coming into either race 100% (far from it, in fact). So at the start line of SF, I figured I’d run the first half and see how I felt. My knee was still bothering me, but not to the point of being unable to run, so after the first 2 miles, it loosened up and I settled into a pretty good rhythm. I was maybe a minute back of the lead group heading onto the bridge and made up some ground on them, eventually pulling even in the park around mile 14-15. While my knee was feeling surprisingly good, my hamstrings and butt tightened up in a matter of minutes heading around Stow Lake. I pulled the plug at mile 18 (right near the 1st half finish), got on the bus, and was at the full marathon finish in time to see the winner. I was a little disappointed because I knew I had a shot at the win, but that’s the way racing goes – you have to be able to run the whole thing, and on that day, I couldn’t. My knee felt pretty good afterwards and Rachelle (who ran the 1st half despite getting food poisoning the night before) had a good race as well. We spend the rest of the day hanging out with friends (can’t wait to see Ethan and Kim in Squamish) and had a great dinner to end the weekend.

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Coming off the bridge

                I knew my knee was improving as I was able to run on Monday without too much pain. I saw Hal to get some work done on my IT band and the pain shifted from the outside of my knee to being under my kneecap. I think he said that this was the progression of things as my IT band loosened its Vader force choke on my knee. Frankly, I was just happy to have the pain shift to somewhere else. I ran pretty well the rest of the week, saw Hal again on Friday, and went into the group run at SF Running Co. on Saturday feeling pretty good. However, just a couple of miles into the group run I found myself counting the miles. Not a good sign when you’re thinking: only 12 miles to go. My right foot was having some major issues in the shoes I was wearing and I think it threw my stride off a bit, as my whole right leg felt off. I was able to make it through most of the run but with about a mile and a half to go, my knee went from being OK to forcing me to stop within about 10 meters. I walked for a bit and it loosened up. So I started jogging again and was able to make it back to the store, where it felt remarkably normal upon stopping. I’d like to note that during the run, I had made the decision to stop running until my knee felt normal again. I wanted to go an entire day without any pain or discomfort before running again. I don’t know why it took my so long to realize that I’m not worried about the outcome of Squamish, but I’m not. That realization allowed me to be content in my decision to not run until the race if that’s what my body wanted. I had tired of running in pain, as it was making me dread my runs rather than look forward to them. So as of Saturday post-run, I was not going to run until my knee stopped hurting for an entire day.However, as the day went on, it continued to not bother me. I took Sunday off and Rachelle and I took advantage by tandem biking from SF to Sausalito. Super touristy, but also super fun. I highly recommend it if you haven’t done it. My knee didn’t whimper once.

Tandem Biking on the GGB

We passed all the tourists

                On Monday, I got out of work a bit later than usual so the plan was to run 6-7 miles, since I had gone the entirety of Sunday (and Monday) without a hint of pain. I was rewarded with no pain in my knees (FINALLY). I wanted to go my usual 12 miles, but convinced myself not to push it. I ended up running 8 and felt great the whole time. On Tuesday, Rachelle and I joined the West Valley workout for the first time since early June and it was great to be back out there. It also served as a painful reminder of how different ultra-distance race pace is versus cross country race pace. My legs were not ready for that sort of speed and while I suffered a bit, it felt good to move fast(er) again. We did 3 x 2 mile repeats around Stow Lake and up Strawberry Hill, with the last one being a more moderate effort, and my knees were totally compliant. Last night, I ran out to Tennessee Valley Beach and on the bike path with the SFRC group run. My right IT band tightened up a bit just above the knee, so I’ve got to keep an eye on that. Luckily it responds well to foam rolling, so I ordered a firmer one since my current one seems a little soft. I am optimistic that as long as I’m vigilant in stretching and working on it, it won’t prove to be too much of a problem.

Next up is the Squamish 50 miler on Aug. 16. I am beyond excited to run in this area, as it’s absolutely gorgeous. I know Gary Robbins has a devil of a course waiting for us, but I’m pumped. No expectations and I’ve given myself full permission to drop should it come to that. After Squamish, my next big race is the NYC Marathon (Nov. 2). I’m really looking forward to training for that and racing the local cross country races in preparation. I want to get some speed back in my legs. Western took a lot more out of me than I had imagined it would and I’m ready to get back after it finally.

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Recovery is hard

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Recovery is a strange thing. I will be the first to admit, I’ve never really been great at it. In fact, I probably really suck (and that’s now a proven fact). Coming to a full stop is very, very difficult for me. I knew I would have to take some time off after Western States, but I didn’t know exactly what that would entail. 1 week? 2 weeks? 4? I certainly hoped it wouldn’t be that long, but recognized it as a possibility. However, recognizing something as a possibility is entirely different from allowing it to become a reality. So in the week immediately after Western, I was content to not run. I could hardly walk. My knees were a wreck and everything hurt. But that didn’t stop me from going on a run/hike with Rachelle that first Wednesday, which was a terrible, terrible idea. I was reduced to walking backwards on the downhills and walking pretty much the rest of the time. Next year, I won’t make that mistake. However, another 4 days off was about all I found I could handle without running. Not having a good bike to ride doesn’t help either, and I’m hoping to rectify that situation in the next couple of weeks, but I digest (har har). So come Monday (a whole 8 days after states), I was back out there. I managed 4 miles with some decent climbing and my body didn’t fall apart. That gave me courage to continue throughout the week (5 days totaling 29 miles), but when I look back on it, I realize my legs, and especially my knees, weren’t feeling any better during that time. They weren’t getting worse, but they certainly weren’t improving. So I forced myself to take Saturday and Sunday off. Monday found me feeling a lot better and I was able to run 9 solid miles in SF, but come Tuesday, I was sore and stiff again. So I took 3 more days off (ARE YOU SEEING A PATTERN YET?!) and didn’t run until Friday, when I felt really good on an easy 8 miles around Westwood. Then, on Saturday, Rachelle and I ran 12 in Rancho Bernardo, including a 1000+ ft. climb and descent and I was pretty pleased with how things felt, especially on the descent. Sunday, I went an easy 5 around Balboa Island and felt pretty close to normal. I’ve been back at nearly normal mileage so far this week and am feeling better with each day. I’m also making myself cry nightly on the foam roller, but I can feel immediate benefits from my time on it, so I keep rolling away.

Looking back at the fitful recovery, I know a lot of it was due to not knowing what was coming. It’s hard to prepare for the unknown, and that’s true in races as well as recovery. I was also looking around at some of the other guys and girls who raced and seeing that they seemed to be recovering faster than I was. Social media is a huge culprit in this, as people are always posting their adventures and it just reinforced the fact that I wasn’t out there. So I felt like I needed to be at their level, even though they had raced this distance before and their bodies were more familiar with the demands of the event. That’s silly. If there’s one thing I know (now more than ever), it’s that everybody is different, especially in recovery. So next time, I promise to listen to my body better. I won’t push coming back until I feel like I’m ready. Admittedly, having the SF marathon 4 weeks after States also played a role in me trying to come back earlier, but that’s something that I can change by simply not signing up. As it stands, however, I’m feeling pretty darn good this week and am looking forward to the race on Sunday. I’ve got no expectations and I am giving myself permission to drop out should my legs start feeling badly. Either way, I’ll be at the VIP party afterwards taking full advantage of the mimosas, Bloody Mary’s, and beer. If you’re racing, hope to see you out there!

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Western States 2014

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Did that really happen? I’m still in disbelief that Western States has already come and gone. It seems like yesterday that I was writing that last post, getting ready to head up to Squaw. The drive on Thursday wasn’t bad and before we knew it we were eating dinner at the Montrail house (thanks for the invite Topher and Byron!). It was fun talking with runners and crew members, and hearing stories of past years. On Friday, I went for an easy shakeout with Vargo, Magda, and Ghelfi before they did the hill climb. Magda and Vargo won, meaning my pacing duo was undefeated in races where they’d raced together (Cool, Cayuga, Hill Climb). No pressure to keep the streak alive hahaha. The rest of the day was spent dealing with last minute logistics, checking in, and eating. We hung out with the Nike crew for a while, and then I went and ate my usual pre-race pasta dinner. Rachelle arrived earlier than planned, so she and I found her some food with the Nike crew again, which proved to be a very nice way to keep my mind off the race. We got to bed around 10pm (I’m a firm believer that the sleep you get 2-3 nights out from the race is what matters, so I really don’t stress over sleep the night before). After what seemed like a short nap, the alarm was going off at 3:30am. Statesmas had arrived.

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Less than a minute to go! (not sure who took this)

I ate my routine breakfast of Wheat Thins, got my bib number, weighed in, and then headed over to the starting line. I was anxious, excited, and ready. I lined up near Dylan, Jorge, Brett, and Ian, planning on keying off of them, but especially Ian, for the first part of the race. Unfortunately Matt Laye was missing from the line as he had to DNS due to his ornery hamstring, but I have a feeling he’ll be on that line before long. Then, the gun was fired and we were off. All the way up the escarpment, my goal was to keep it feeling as easy as possible. That involved hiking most of it and I found myself again around Brett, Ian, and Jorge. Dylan and Nike teammate David Laney were up ahead with Krar, Max King, and a couple of others, but I was fine letting them go. Teagen and Julie were about 2.5 miles up and were cheering very loudly (thank you!). Brett and I got to the top of the escarpment together and were were welcome by Fernando, Staples, Laura, Stricklan and some others I’m sure I’m missing. Their enthusiasm was greatly appreciated! We crested just in time to see Ian absolutely bombing down the backside. What’s the rush I thought? After all, we had 96 miles to go.

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Brett and I at the top of the Escarpment (Thanks for the pic Laura!). Surely a sign of good things to come.

The next several miles were spent sorting out a bit of a secondary chase group, and I yo-yoed among several people as I had to stop 3 times to poop. At some point, someone joked that I was on pace to set the record for most poops at Western States. I hoped that wouldn’t be the case, as I had taken Immodium before in an effort to avoid a repeat of Cool. After #3 (which was the most scenic poop I have ever taken), things settled down for good. Heading into Duncan Canyon (mile 23.8), I was right behind Ryan Sandes, another guy who I knew had a good shot at placing very high, so I was pretty content with my positioning. I was happily surprised to see a couple of the Nike folks (Iris and Dave, I think) cheering for us as we went through. Jorge had caught back up to me by this point, as was evidenced by the entire aid station chanting “Hip hip Jorge!” for about 3 minutes straight. He and I ran together all the way until Robinson Flat (mile 29.7). We passed a couple of guys during this section and my legs were feeling like we had just started running (which was what I had hoped would be the case). The leaders were well out of sight at this point, and I was just focused on running easy and controlled and eating while I could still stomach it. However, my left knee had started to hurt a bit. I knew the downhills would stress my quads but didn’t think that would translate into knee pain. Looking back on it, I realize that my quads and IT bands got quite tight and started causing pain just above my kneecap. I was a little worried, but mostly relieved that it wasn’t my hip flexors.

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HIP HIP JORGE! Coming into Robinson Flat (credit: irunfar I think?)

At Robinson Flat, I saw my crew (Rachelle, Vargo, and Magda) for the first time. I swapped out my bottles, restocked on Gu’s and Picky Bars, and about 100m out of the aid station realized I had forgotten my sunglasses and to re-apply Body Glide and Chapstick. Dammit. 26 miles until I would see them again. Oh and I had forgotten to take my arm sleeves off but thankfully I saw URP Eric in a tree and he kindly accepted my offering of said arm sleeves. Jorge and I remained together for a bit longer, probably until near Miller’s Defeat, and then we separated a bit through the aid station. That was the last I would see of him. At this point, I was running pretty much alone but soon caught up with a man who introduced himself as Brendan Davies. He and I made some good progress (came through Dusty Corners together) and caught back up to Ian who had had a bit of a rough patch early on, but was recovering well. He also informed me that Sandes had stopped for a poop and was behind us, as I had been under the impression that he had taken off ahead. I moved past them and came into Last Chance (mile 43.3) pretty much alone.

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Brendan and I working together

As I dropped down to the first river crossing of the day, I could hear Ian and Brendan’s voices above me on the switchbacks. Before they caught me, however, I came upon David Laney, who was in a bit of a dark patch. As timing would have it, all 4 of us (me, David, Brendan, and Ian) were all in the river at the same time and started our conga line up to Devil’s Thumb. Ian put on a clinic in powerhiking, while I alternated between hiking and jogging. Brendan jogged almost the entire thing, and David hung on as best he could. Coming up to Devil’s Thumb (mile 47.8), my right armpit was starting to chafe and thankfully Joe Uhan was there to liberally apply Vaseline (I owe you one, Joe).

I left Devil’s Thumb a bit behind Ian and a little before Brendan. I caught up with Ian on the long downhill into El Dorado Creek and he and I had a nice chat. He gave me a lot of great advice about what was coming (thankfully I had run the canyons and Cal St. before, so I knew a bit of what was to come but his advice was still invaluable). At one point he remarked how he had helped Matt Laye beat him at Rocky Raccoon and was hoping that would not prove to be the case today with me. Ian put a good bit of ground on me coming up to Michigan Bluff (mile 55.7) and by now, the heat had definitely become more of a factor. I hiked much of the climb (saw Tanner on the way up – thanks for cheering!) and was greeted at the top by Teagen and Matt and maybe Julie and Iris? Forgive me, I’m not sure. I was starting to feel the distance. Then I saw Fernando. I have never seen someone so excited to see me in my life, including my dog. He just started yelling, “VARNER IS COMING! VARNER IS COMING!” and sprinted back down the road to the aid station. That gave me a huge boost and I entered the station with a huge grin. My crew was again a model of efficiency, as I was cooled, refueled, and on my way within a minute or two. I saw no other runners in the station and knew Ian must have pushed on ahead.

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Nearing the top of El Dorado Canyon (thanks Teagen for the pic!)

As I headed into the last big canyon, my left hamstring decided to tighten up and almost cramped. I had to stop and stretch it for a bit but it loosened as the salt tablets and electrolytes sunk in. The climb through Bath Road and up to Foresthill was lonely, hot and exposed. I was feeling pretty fatigued at this point and just wanted to get to Foresthill where Vargo was waiting to pace me. By now, I had been told that I was in 7th. While my publicly stated goals coming in had been more modest, inside, I wanted a top 10 spot. So I was relieved to see that Miguel Heras had dropped at the Bath aid station (putting me into 6th). I was also a bit saddened because dropping sucks and I wouldn’t wish it upon anyone. But no mind, I had work to do. Heading into Foresthill (mile 62), I could see Mike Aish up ahead and then noticed Ryan Sandes coming up behind me.

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Approaching Foresthill (credit: irunfar?)

As I entered the aid station, Rachelle said I had to eat something. I realized I hadn’t eaten in a bit, but nothing sounded good. Except pickles. So I said I wanted pickles and the aid station crew produced a huge jar of them for me. Looking back on it, Rachelle meant I needed to eat something with calories, but hey, obey the letter of the law if not the spirit, right? Pickles it was. She also tried to give me a rather large ice pack to carry on my wrist for a bit, but I petulantly threw that to the ground saying, “No, it’s too big.” I immediately felt bad for snapping at her but it was too late to turn around as Vargo and I were already headed out.

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Vargo and I heading out of Foreshill (not sure who took this – sorry!)

Sandes and his pacer passed us fairly soon after we hit the trail and we stayed with them through Cal-1, where we bumped into Ian. Sandes was out quicker than us and soon I was yo-yoing with Ian again. We passed Mike Aish cooling off in a stream and Ian noted that he did not look good. At this point, I was really started to feel the distance and both of my knees were rather painful. The downhills were getting harder and harder to run and I was looking forward to every climb, as that meant I could walk/jog, recover, and most importantly, take some pressure off my knees. Getting down towards Rucky Chucky Near (mile 78), I went into a pretty dark place. I realized that I still had 7-8 miles to run with Vargo and then I would have yet ANOTHER 20 to run with Magda after that. I never doubted I would finish, but it certainly seemed as though the finish line would never get closer and I’d just be running forever. Vargo and I didn’t talk a lot, and I think that was probably a good thing, as I was angry and tired and hurting and would have made a terrible conversation partner. At least I had started eating Gu’s again and those helped lift my spirits and energy occasionally.

On one of the larger climbs nearing Rucky Chucky Near, Brendan went running by. He had dropped his pacer who came by shortly after and was looking strong. I was back in 7th (passed Aish, passed by Sandes and Brendan). I was able to keep him and Ian in sight but was convinced that they were both across the river by the time I got there. Turns out Ian had already crossed, but Brendan had spent some time in the aid station and he and I crossed at the same time. He picked up his second pacer, Ben, and they started running up to Green Gate. Seeing George and Ken and everyone else at Rucky Chucky Far was a huge boost, as was the refreshing river. I was more energized heading up to Green Gate, but that quickly faded as the exposed road was dusty and dry and hot. However, I knew that Magda and Rachelle were waiting at the aid station (mile 79.8) and I was starting to be able to run more of the uphills. Pat, John, Jarrett and Dave (I think?) were part of the way down the road and their cheering put some hop in my step.

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Vargo and I climbing up to Green Gate (thanks Pat!)

I came into the aid station with a smile and recovered for a couple minutes while my crew iced me down. Matt Laye and Bridget were also there cheering (and at Michigan Bluff and probably at Foresthill – thank you!) and everyone got me and Magda on our way quickly. The 5 miles to Auburn Lake Trails aid station (85.2) were an eternity. My knees were really starting to get to me and I was pretty cranky. Thankfully, I had chosen my pacers wisely and Magda did exactly as I’d hoped – chatted with me and tried to keep me from thinking too much about the pain and fatigue that were setting in. We finally reached Brown’s Bar and know that there were “only” 10 miles to go was great. But by this point, every downhill was excruciating. On the flip side, I felt like I was running more and more of the uphills, if only for the reason that they were all I could run without huge discomfort. Shortly before we hit Highway 49 (mile 93.5), we passed Brendan, who was walking on one of the uphills. I was surprised and offered him a few words of encouragement as we went by. At Highway 49, we saw Rachelle and Vargo and I picked up an extra bottle because I didn’t want to have to stop again until the finish. We pushed up the climb to the meadow, cursed my way down the other side of it, and came into No Hands Bridge (mile 96.8) ready to be done. Mark, Matt, Rickey, Bridget and probably some others were there, but I really didn’t see anyone as I was experiencing complete tunnel vision. But thank you for cheering. I heard it and it helped.

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Magda leading us home out of Robie Point (not sure on photo credit)

Climbing up to Robie Point (mile 98.9), Magda and I heard voices down below us, which she didn’t mention, but we were both looking back to see if Brendan was gaining back on us (apparently he was, but we never saw him). Once we hit the pavement, Magda really kicked my ass into gear and we charged up the final hill, past Bernie (thanks for yelling!), through the neighborhood and towards the track. In the last half mile I saw ex-Rebel teammates Ben and Woody who were basically screaming at me and that really helped me push the final bit. After the left turn onto Finley, I could see the lights of the stadium. It was amazing. Rachelle and Vargo joined Magda and I for the final stretch into the stadium and as I got onto the track, they cut over to the other side to see me finish, leaving me alone.

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Getting closer… (thanks Ben? Vargo? I was so out of it I don’t remember…)

I picked it up a bit on the track, not because I was afraid Brendan was coming, but because you’re supposed to run fast on the track. I did slow a bit to savor the final straightaway, and crossing the finish line brought an immense sense of accomplishment that I really haven’t felt in running before. I finished 7th overall in 15:53:42 and couldn’t be happier about it.

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So close! (thanks Jarrett!)

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Done! (thanks Tanner!)

The rest of the evening was spent recovering (mostly prone on the ground), eating, and talking about the race with the other finishers. Krar won. Seth was second. DBo ran an incredibly smart/gutsy race for 3rd. Brett finished 9th overall, marking arguably the best performance out of our Mill Valley bros, and Jorge had a bit of a rough day, but finished strong with a smile and a heel kick. What else would you expect? Laney had a rough second half as the moisture really started bugging his feet, but gutting it out like that in his first 100 miler was really impressive.

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Aftermath (thanks Chris!)

After a couple of hours sleep, we ate breakfast with Dylan, Harmony, and his parents and then headed over to watch the final finishers. That was really moving – seeing those folks who had been out there for 30 hours coming across the line. That takes a different level of mental fortitude that I’m not sure I have. The awards ceremony was a lot of fun (yay buckles!) and then Rachelle and I were driving home and it was over.

A few odds and ends and thank yous from the experience, in no particular order:

- I thought I found some dark places towards the end of Lake Sonoma. That was nothing compared to where I went in this race. As I said before, I never doubted I would finish, but it certainly seemed at times like I would simply never reach the finish line.

- The work that goes into putting on this race is hard to comprehend. As David Laney put it, “They could charge $1,000 for this thing and I’d still pay to run it.” The race organizers, volunteers, sponsors, and everyone else involved were absolutely on their game all weekend. My sincerest thanks.

- Rachelle – I picked you to crew for me not only because you’re my girlfriend, but because I knew you could do it and do it well. A lot of people were a little skeptical of me picking a first time crew person, especially with this being my first 100 miler, but I know what you’re capable of and you did an incredible job. Thank you and I’m still sorry for throwing the ice pack and being short with you in Foresthill.

- Vargo and Magda – I picked you guys to be my pacers because you’ve run long distances and know the dark places the miles can take you. I would not have finished as well as I did were it not for your selfless efforts. You put up with my bitching and moaning and cursing without batting an eye. I’m not sure how I can repay you, but hopefully some opportunity will present itself.

- Ian Sharman – we ran together for so much of the race that even Strava linked our activities (proof!). Thank you for the advice. I may not have been able to say much in return at times, but your willingness to impart knowledge knows no bounds (although maybe you want to give Matt Laye a little less so that you and I have a fighting chance, eh?). Also, Rachelle had a great time chatting with your crew, Adam and Olivia, at the aid stations.

- Brendan Davies – we also ran together for a lot of this race. It was a privilege to share the trail with you and I hope it happens again in the future. Congratulations on rallying out of Highway 49. I was running scared for much of the last 5-6 miles.

- My parents – Thank you for cheering and supporting me in this endeavor. I know it must have been nerve-wracking at times (especially for mom), but knowing that I have your full support in running and in life means so much to me. I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to thank you both enough.

- The Nike Crew that came down for this race was amazingly supportive of David, Sally, and me. You guys were absolutely awesome in addressing all of our needs, making sure we were taken care of, and cheering for us out on the course. The trail team/family is awesome and I’m so happy to be a part of it. Teagen, Julie, Iris, Jarrett, Pat, Truax, Roulo, Matt (I think that’s it?) – thank you and hopefully I’ll get to see you all again soon!

- Thank you to everyone out on the course (and at their computers) who cheered for me and all of the other runners. Off the top of my head, I remember seeing Matt Laye (aka Mopy Dick – heal soon!), Bridget (Donde esta Jorge?), Fernando, Laura, Stricklan, DeNucci, Nuno, Tanner (thanks for the photos!), The Big Stapler, Harmony, McManus and Charlie, Bernie, Ben, Woody, Chris, Uhan (thanks for being so liberal with that vaseline – truly a godsend), George, Ken, Laura, Rickey, Galen, Larissa, Victor, Charles, Ghelfi, Ethan, Billy, Denis (I’m hiring your for Squamish cheering captain). There are hundreds more I’m sure I’m forgetting, but thank you as well. You were instrumental in all of the performances on Saturday.

- Some people have asked me what surprised me most during the race. Hands down, the boogers. The combination of dry air, high altitude, and dust made for some epic booger-producing conditions in my nostrils. I’d be lying if I said that I also didn’t look forward to the uphills because that gave me a chance to pick my nose as well as resting my knees.

- 100 miles is damn far and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Congratulations to those who finished, and to everyone who got to the start line in Squaw. Even if you didn’t finish, your efforts are remarkable. – I’m happy I picked Western States to be my first 100 mile race. The experience was like nothing else. I will run another 100 mile race, but it almost certainly won’t happen between now and Western States 2015, if that soon. However, I am already thinking of ways to improve in training and on this course come race day, so let’s just leave it at that ;-P

A few other random photos that I liked (not sure on credit on most of these, sorry!)

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Foresthill (someone sent me this but i can’t remember for the life of me who – but thank you! great filtering!)

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Jorge and I looking particularly majestic

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Vargo and I heading out of Forsethill. My dad photobombs again. (thanks Charles!)

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River Crossing (so fresh and so clean – thanks Jarrett)

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Strava Buckles (Larissa!)

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Thank you, team. Just thank you.

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Top 10 Men and what do you know, I’m behind Sharman again

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The Double Dipsea Taper

Thursday, June 26, 2014

                In the past couple years, the week after the Dipsea has found me at the Woodminster XC race. I really like Woody because the longer course (which is awesome as well) plays to my strengths as a scratch runner, with 2+ miles of flat, fast fire road to finish the race and run down those who started in front of me. The handicaps are slightly less generous than those for the Dipsea (I think), so I’ve been fortunate enough to win the race a couple of times. However, the schedule was changed this year for some reason and the race fell a week later than normal (the day after the Double Dipsea, which is 13 days after the Dipsea). So this year, I took the opportunity to head up to Lake Tahoe with my West Valley teammates and run the Lake Tahoe Relay: 1 lap around the lake split into 7 legs. I chose leg 3, which is mostly downhill, in an effort to get my quads more used to the pounding they’ll endure at Western. To quickly summarize, our open men’s and women’s both placed 2nd and we were quite pleased with the results, especially considering both teams were scraping together a full squad just a few days before the race.

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                The following weekend was the Double Dipsea. I love this race. It’s relaxed, fun, and the longer course combined with slightly less favorable head starts makes it winnable. My goal going into the race was to not tire myself too much for Western the next weekend, and to not hurt myself in any other way. The race started out fairly tamely, with a solid group of scratch guys making their way to the top of Cardiac a bit slower than the previous year, but I wasn’t worried. The course was longer as this year, the Moors replaced the Doors AND we had to take the trail alongside Muir Woods Road instead of Muir Woods Road itself. We took the Moors last year and it slowed my time considerably relative to the year before, so I knew this year would be even slower as the singletrack that replaced the road would likely be filled with runners going both ways.

                Duffy put a bit of time on me on the descent and I found myself running alone as I gapped the guys behind me a bit. That quickly changed when I got tripped up passing someone just below halfway rock. Luckily, the damage wasn’t bad and I popped right back up and kept going. The trail was definitely more crowded this year than in years past with 600 registered runners and a hiker division that had started at 7:30am (more on that later). I made my way to the turnaround without any further issues, other than some hikers who were taking up more of the trail than they should have been (I’m not the only person who felt this was the case). Alan was cresting the top flight of stairs as I was coming into them and I was a bit surprised because I thought he’d be farther ahead. Still, there was a lot of race to run and I didn’t know how he was feeling. So I put my head down and charged down the stairs. I caught back up to Duffy on the bottom flight of stairs – it pays to have them less than a half mile from my door – and hit the turnaround in 52:42, feeling pretty good.

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                I was very conscious to take my time heading back up the stairs as I didn’t want to tire myself out for the long climb to Cardiac. I hit the creek feeling pretty good and just took my time on the climb. I forced myself to go a bit easier than I normally would have and was totally OK knowing that Alan may very well be running away from me. At Cardiac, I was feeling pretty good but still didn’t feel like really putting the hammer down, so I cruised down to Swoop and through Steep Ravine. When I got to the top of the new switchback at the Moors, I saw Alan and Sissel about a quarter mile ahead of me. At that point, I decided I was going to push to catch them, as they were running in the 1st and 2nd spots respectively. It took basically an all-out sprint from the Moors to the finish line to catch Alan, as I caught him with about 50m to spare (sorry, Alan!), crossing the line in 1:46:18 (53:36 for the 2nd half).

                The race itself was organized really well. Brazen Racing took it over from DSE (although I believe DSE still helped out quite a bit) and they put on a great event. The handicapped start is not an easy thing to pull off. The only complaint I have is with the addition of a hiker division. With more people than ever in the race, the hikers were allowed to start at 7:30am (half an hour before the 1st handicap group and an hour and a half before my group) so that they could finish within the time limits. This trail is tight enough as it is without having to worry about race hikers in addition to tourist/day hikers not in the race (especially this year with the course change off Muir Woods Road and the increased number of racers). Many of the race hikers had poles and backpacks, which took up a lot of room on the trail and they were decidedly less courteous in yielding to runners than the non-race hikers. I recognize that they also paid a race entry fee and are entitled to their space on the trail, but a little self-awareness of the situation and their surroundings would have gone a long way in several places. Headphones and poles(!) were the items I heard mentioned the most at the finish as having been responsible for passing problems. I’m not trying to blow this out of proportion, as it was a very small part of the day, but I did hear many folks discussing it after the finish. Maybe that’s something Brazen wants to look at more closely for next year.

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                The rest of the day was spent watching soccer and hanging out with some friends I hadn’t seen in a long time. Then, it was bed time and Sunday brought on the beginning of the true taper for Western States. I’ve spent some time in the sauna recently which I hope will help with the heat that we’ll likely see. Other than that, I’ve done pretty much everything I can do. All that’s left is to sit back, relax, and fight the pre-race jitters that are making regular appearances in my dreams. I’m heading up to Squaw this afternoon and will get a short shakeout run in tomorrow morning before watching my pacers (Vargo and Magda) at the hill climb. After that, the pre-race meeting, dinner and an early bedtime are all that stand between me and the start line. I’m excited and terrified among many other emotions. As it’s my first 100 miler, my primary goal is to finish upright. I do want a silver buckle and think that I can go well under 20 hours, but since this is twice as far as I’ve ever run, I really have no idea what’s going to be waiting for me in the 2nd half. So I’m going to try to stay as conservative as I can for the first half and then see what I’ve got left in the later stages of the race. It might take a couple of weeks for me to get another post out, as I’ll likely have a lot to digest, so I guess we’ll just leave it open to that. Best of luck to everyone running out there. #seeyouinsquaw

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