We had a baby

March 16, 2017

My first post of 2017 is probably a bit overdue, depending on how you look at it. The back issue that I mentioned in my last post cleared right up after visits to Marty Maddox at Ultrahealth and Andrew Castellanos at Acupuncture for Athletics. Some magic was worked by their hands and needles and by the first week of the new year, I was running pain-free (yayayayay!). I felt good enough to start working out the second week and basically haven’t looked back. I ran a few workouts with the West Valley Tuesday night crew but as my wife’s due date drew closer, I found myself running in Mill Valley more and more often to be near when the inevitable call came that the birth of our child was nigh.

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Tuesday nights with West Valley (PC: Karen Ramming or Bernie Jones)

 

The due date (Feb. 14) came and went without much to-do. Then several days later, Rachelle started experiencing contractions indicative of early labor. The problem was that they weren’t progressing. She dealt with them for 4-5 days and they got as close as 4 minutes apart but only while walking. Every time she’d come home and rest, they’d spread back out and diminish in intensity. Finally, on Feb. 23 we went to the hospital and they measured her amniotic fluid level. It was 8. The normal range is 8-18, so it was low, but normal for someone who was 9 days late. We made an appointment for Friday, in the hopes that it wouldn’t be needed and that she’d be in labor or we’d have a baby by then. Well, Thursday came and went without any progress so we showed up Friday afternoon for our appointment. The midwife did another fluid level check (always makes me think of bringing your car into the shop) and found that Rachelle was at 2.5, or really, really low. They weren’t going to let us go home and unless things progressed in the next couple hours, they were going to induce, which wasn’t in the plan. So we took a few minutes to readjust, realizing that healthy mom and healthy baby were the priorities, and moved forward. Things didn’t move and so they induced Rachelle with a bit of Pitocin around 9pm and come midnight, she was in active labor. I won’t go into details, but 5 intense hours later we had a healthy baby girl in our arms, named Ava Marie Varner (we wanted to meet her before finalizing her name, and thankfully it worked out because we didn’t have any backup names).

We spent the next 2 nights in the hospital, as Rachelle lost 1.5 liters of blood during the birth due to some hemorrhaging. It also allowed us to get used to having Ava and made sure that her feeding and sleeping were going as well as they could. We went home on Monday, Feb. 27, and I began 2 weeks of paternity leave. 2 weeks wasn’t quite as long as I would have liked, but that’s one of trade-offs for the more longer-term flexibility that comes with being a partner at a small firm. So, I knew I had to really make the most of those 2 weeks. I didn’t have any real running plans, as I wanted to be there and be as supportive and helpful as possible for Rachelle and Ava. Rachelle’s mom has also been staying with us in preparation for Ava’s arrival and the transition has been greatly eased by her help (thank you, Lauren!). As it turns out (and hopefully this isn’t going to jinx anything), Ava is a great eater and sleeper. Rachelle had very little issue getting her to be comfortable with breastfeeding and she sleeps like a champ. She regularly sleeps for 2.5-3 hours at a time, which means we’re able to get decent night’s sleep. I can’t feed her, so I generally wake up once during the night to change Ava’s diaper and then go back to sleep while Rachelle nurses her before she returns to sleep. It has also meant that I got in some really good training while I was home for those 2 weeks. I unexpectedly hit 100 miles in a 7-day span for the first time in over 2 years and have generally been feeling quite good in workouts (except for Tuesday, but that happens). My hamstrings bark occasionally, but I seem to be able to manage them with stretching and rolling. I’m finally feeling truly healthy for the first time in quite a while and am hoping this continues as I head towards Boston and the Dipsea beyond that. But that may change any day now, as I’m back at work (don’t pick the week after DST spring forward to come back from a vacation of any sort, BTW – it’s terrible) and Ava’s habits might evolve. For the time being, I’ll take what I can get, but thankfully I have an understanding wife who knows that a large part of my mental well-being ties directly to being able to run. She’s a similarly active person and is overjoyed to be recovered enough to start hiking again, now with the grom in tow.

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Darth Varner

As for Ava herself, well, she’s pretty great. She’s calm, makes noises like a baby hippo when she gets hungry (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mp0v8UTgR2M), and has gained 1.5lbs since birth (when she was 7lbs 7oz). Having never been parents before, it’s remarkable to see how much she’s changed in only a few weeks. She used to wake up and immediately start crying to be fed. Now, she’s alert and looking around for 20-30 minutes before she wants to be fed again. Her eyes are less crossed as the muscles strengthen and she can move her head around even though she can’t fully hold it up on her own yet. We created an Instagram account for her @DarthVarner for those who want to see pictures, but here are a couple because I can’t resist. For now, I think that’s about it. I’ll try to have another update posted before Boston (less than 5 weeks away!), but won’t promise anything using my child as an excuse.

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She’s an excellent sleeper

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2016 Revisited

12/22/2016:

I’ve been trying to get this out before the very end of the year, so I’ll chalk it up as a win that I managed to get it out a week before 2016 officially comes to a close. From what I can tell, it seems like a decent number of people are excited to put 2016 behind them. I guess it seems like it had more than its fair share of events with less-than-optimal outcomes, but as humans we’re also prone to remember our and (by extension) the greater world’s sad events (for lack of a better, all-encompassing term) rather than the happy ones. So when I said to my wife the other day that I was looking forward to a new start in 2017, mostly due to the unfulfilling year of running I had in 2016, she kindly reminded me that it all depends on how you look at it. And by that I mean, we can choose to focus on the negatives or we can choose to focus on the positives. Sure, I didn’t have a good year of running. I spent half of it trying to run pain free and underperforming in races and then the one race I finally had a good training block for blew up in my face due to something that was probably within my control and now I find myself 2+ weeks into a back issue that seems to have appeared despite my not doing any structured running for 6+ weeks since that race. Or, I could focus on the good that 2016 brought. Rachelle moved to California full-time for the first time since we met. We got married. We had a wonderful honeymoon. We found out we’re having our first child in February. Those are pretty damn good events that should overshadow the mediocre running that occurred, but I find it hard to remind myself of that, and feel like I continue to carry the burden of underperformance in the running area of my life. So I’m hoping this post will serve as a final, cathartic release of the bad energy I’ve been harboring to make room for the good that should have been there all along. Now that’s not to say this is just going to be a re-hash of the self-inflicted discontent with my running life. In fact, I’m not even quite sure where to go from here, as I feel like I’ve said what needed to be said. So I guess I’ll just touch on a few highlights and lowlights and that’ll be it.

 

Stuff that got me down:

– Taking some decent down time in December of 2015 only to find myself dealing with nagging hip pain come January. It took me 4-5 months to get it sorted, with help from Hal Rosenberg at Chiro Medical Group and Marty Mattox at UltraHealth. I only began to run pain free in June.

– As a result, Way Too Cool, the first half of Lake Sonoma, the Boston Marathon, Bay to Breakers, and Marin 10k were all run in discomfort due to that hip issue. I was also constantly adjusting training and unable to go all out, which compromised my fitness. Thankfully my coach, Jason Koop, was there and helped me deal with the inevitable setbacks that come with prolonged injury.

– Failing to reclaim the Fastest Time Award at Dipsea. I knew my fitness was suspect heading in due to the injury and I ran the best I could on the day. But it wasn’t close and Gus very deservingly walked away with the trophy. It’ll be a fun battle next year!

– Having a pretty solid training block in my run up to the IAU Ultra Trail World Championships in Portugal only to have my body stop cooperating when I thought things were going pretty well. I ended up walking the final 20k, which was not how I’d hoped things would go.

 

Stuff that made me happy:

– Training for (healthy) and running a road mile. I spent all of July running speed workouts on the track in preparation for the San Rafael Twilight Crit road mile. It was awesome. And so, so painful.

– Getting married in September.

– Getting the opportunity to represent the USA at the IAU race in Portugal. Visiting a new country, meeting new people, and getting my ass handed to me were hard to beat.

– Ongoing preparations for our first child in February. Can’t wait to meet the little person. We’re waiting to find out if it’s a boy or a girl, which is just increasing the excitement.

 

I think that’s about it. For the folks interested in statistics, since the year isn’t quite done, I’ll give you YTD (and they likely won’t change too much between now and actual year-end).

In 2016, I raced 12 times (vs 21 in 2015). That’s only once a month. I love racing! Something is wrong. I raced 208.9 miles for an average race distance of 17.4 (vs 299.8 miles in 2015 for an avg of 14.3). I want to bring that average race distance back down in 2017, as it means I’m running more XC and road races, which I think helps me on the ultra scene.

races

 

Annual mileage totals: Things are trending the wrong way. Training smarter is one thing, but not to this extent. I would like to get back up around 3,500 next year. I’ve also had more injuries in the past 2 years than I had in the preceding years, which has contributed to this decline and that’s something I really want to work on.

annual-mileage

Hand-in-hand with the decrease in mileage has been a decrease in weekly average miles and an increase in days off. High correlation (and causation!) with injury.

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And finally, just for fun, here are my monthly mileage totals by year.

yearly-totals

 

And finally, a few pics from the year.

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Suits ready to roll at Boston.

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West Valley Centipede at Bay to Breakers #daftpunkissufferingintheback (PC: unknown)

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200m to go in the San Rafael Twilight Mile (PC: unknown)

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Widomaker Summit as Day 1 of the Triple Goat ends (PC: Yiou Wang)

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Suffering away in Portugal (PC: Prozis)

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We got married! (PC: Paige Green)

Anyways, I think that’s about it for this blog in 2016. I’d like to thank my sponsors for a great year, too. Nike, PickyBars, and Victory SportDesign have all been stellar partners and I couldn’t ask for a better group of people to work with at all of them. We’ll see what 2017 brings on the running scene – hopefully better health but inevitably less sleep I think. There may be a shift in content, away from running adventures and towards parenting adventures, but I like to think it may prove more interesting as a result. In the meantime, I hope everyone has a great holiday season and a safe and enjoyable new year.

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Ain’t Done Sh*t

11/3/2016

I’ve never cramped like that before. I had been moving well up until that point, and while it didn’t last more than a couple minutes at the time, it was a sign of things to come. Why was this happening? The week leading up to the race was pretty unremarkable, other than the fact that we were racing in Europe. My flights to Portugal were on time and easy, my legs felt good in the couple days before the race, and the squish was in full effect. The only concern I had was if the smoke from the annual burning season would affect us. The days would start clear but by the afternoon, a thick smoky, haze would settle over the landscape. Combine this with the 75 degree temps we were experiencing (15-20 degrees warmer than normal from what we were told), and I thought it might play a factor in the race. In any case, everyone would have to deal with it, so I didn’t spend a lot of time worrying. I got to the start line feeling healthy, rested, and focused.

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Exploring Bom Jesus with Yiou and Tyler

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Smoke remains in the valley well until the evening

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Team USA (and Vitor!)

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Opening Ceremony

The race started with a bit of a blunder. With so many people packed in at the start, some pushing was inevitable. I had stashed an extra empty water bottle in my pack, anticipating that I’d need it later in the day to accompany my 2 soft flasks (1L total), as there were only 6 water stops over the 85k/5000m gain route. However, within 10 steps of starting, someone bumped me from behind. I stumbled, almost went down, and felt my bottle pop out of my pack. There was no chance to pick it up in the crowd, so I just kept running and hoped that my flasks would be enough when things got hot. Other than losing a bottle, things started well enough – I had to pee at the start line but waited until around 2k in, at the start of the first climb, to relieve myself. Many people passed but I was not worrying at all about it because we still had 83k of racing to go. My plan was to start conservatively, cover the first climb and descent well within myself, and then start moving up.

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Start of the race (PC: Faztrail)

The plan went as intended after that. The remainder of the first climb was spent moving up through the field, but I could always see headlamps in front of me. I wondered how far back I was as it was hard to tell but didn’t really think too much about it. I was focused on keeping my breathing relaxed and not breaking an ankle on the descent. The first descent was super technical over large, loose rocks covered in leaves and moss, making it hard to see what was stable and what wasn’t, which was further compounded by us being in the dark. I let a lot of people pass me on that first descent, but emerged unscathed and quickly started making up more places on the runnable sections. I passed Jared Burdick (another member of team USA) around here and knew that Mario Mendoza and Tyler Sigl were still up ahead somewhere. For fuel, I ate a couple of PickyBars for breakfast and 2 more during the first 2 hours of the race. Then, I switched to Gu as my stomach doesn’t like eating solid foods on the run for the most part.

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Climbing in the first couple miles (PC: Prozis)

About 20k/12miles in, I caught up with a Brit who I initially thought was Tom Owens but introduced himself as Andy Symonds. We ran together, talking politics and gradually picking off more people, until the first aid station at the 30k/19mile mark. It was finally light out and was able to stash my headlamp in my pack. I grabbed some coke, refilled my water bottles, and was on my way. Andy left ahead of me but I could still see him out on course. On the next bit of climbing, I passed Mario and a couple other guys. I was still feeling quite good and was looking forward to tackling the climb to the highest point on the course before the day got too hot. I had been eating and drinking regularly and had one full flask for the 7-8k climb which started around 37k/24miles into the race. However, as soon as I got across the dam and started up, my left leg cramped. I was definitely surprised because I was feeling good and hadn’t had any indications that cramping would be an issue this early, and because it wasn’t my hamstring or quad or VMO, it was the whole inside of my leg, from the thigh through the knee and down into the lower leg. It would just freeze up and I while I could ease the pain while stretching, I couldn’t really walk, as my knee was locked at a slight angle. Then it started up in the right leg and I was really stuck. I had just eaten a gel so I didn’t think my electrolytes were the issue, but who knew. I took a swig of water and gradually the pain eased and I could continue moving upwards. Before long, it was as though the cramping had never occurred – I felt no residual effects in my legs and was quite happy about it. The rest of the climb was fairly uneventful, and I passed Tyler at this point, less than a mile into the climb. He didn’t look too good and I’d later find out that he’d run out of water more than 3 miles from the top. Not ideal. As I got to the top (47k/28miles), there was a water station where I downed several ounces of Coke, ate some cake, and emptied out my right shoe for the 8k descent to the 2nd big aid station at 55k.

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Coming into the 1st aid station at 30k (PC: Faztrail)

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After the first round of cramping on the biggest climb, able to move again fairly well (PC: Prozis)

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Perspective – we started at the dam and we’re not even 1/3 of the way up the climb at this point (PC: Prozis)

Things went well enough on the descent, although there were some super runnable parts and my left knee was a bit sore just below the patella (likely the tendon), but that was alleviated when we got off the fire road after a mile and dropped straight down the side of the valley. We climbed a bit heading up into the 2nd aid station where Richard, Nancy, Jade, Lauren, and Jessica (managers and SOs of other team members) were waiting, and the cramping briefly resurfaced again. I had some more Coke in the aid station and made my way out, only to be hit with more cramping anytime the course moved uphill. I could run the downs fairly well, but anytime the route turned up, I would cramp on the insides of both legs. This wasn’t ideal as I was starting the final climb (7k/4miles long with around 950m/3000ft of climbing). I fought my way up, but it took forever, as I was perpetually fighting off cramps. It took me 95+ minutes to travel 4.8 miles, with the final 1.8 miles taking me 54 minutes, while the route climbed 450m/1500ft. By the time I got to the top, my legs were cramping so badly that I couldn’t steer. A medical staff member asked me in broken English if I needed help because I couldn’t heed their directions. I tried to convey that it wasn’t because I was losing my mind, but simply because I couldn’t control my legs. I think I got my point across by continually waving him off until he left me alone. Once over the top, I realized that I couldn’t run at all. My quads, VMOs, and hammys were all shot from the climb, and all of my stabilizers had gone too. So I started walking the 2 miles into the 3rd major aid station. My watch died on the way, having lasted 8 hours and 11 mins, and I was on my own as several people passed me, including the women’s leaders, with maybe 2 minutes separating the top 3 women. They were flying.

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Somewhere near the 2nd aid station at 55k (PC: Prozis)

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Slowly making my way towards the final aid station at 73k (PC: Marco Pereira)

I finally got into the aid station where Nancy kindly asked me how I was doing. I responded “F*cking terrible” (sorry Nancy). My spirits lifted once in the tent, though, as I drank more coke and ate half a croissant. Unfortunately, I learned there that Yiou and Larisa had dropped for the women, leaving just Corinne out on course. She’d go on to finish but also had a tough race. I left the aid station with a smile on my face, resolved to walk the final 12k/7.5miles if I had to. The race organizers were doing a gear check there too, and asked to see my jacket and headlamp. Sneaky sneaky. It was also kind of ridiculous, if you ask me, for them to force us to carry a cell phone, rain jacket, headlamp with extra batteries, and safety blanket for  the entirety of a race that started at 5am, would be finished in the daylight, and was run in 70+ degree temperatures with the max altitude being 1300m. Anyways, I found myself almost completely unable to run anything but flat, where I could manage a shuffle. People continued to moved past me, and Jared caught me maybe 3k/2miles after the aid station. I wondered when Mario and Tyler would come through, but little did I know Tyler would drop at the final aid station and Mario was walking as well, dealing with dizziness. He fought to finish to give us a complete team, walking longer than I did, most likely.

The final miles ticked off slowly. I gradually became more able to run but had to keep taking Gu’s every 15-20 minutes to stave off full-on cramps. There were a couple of punchy climbs in the final 5k/3miles that would have hurt were I able to run them. As it was, the descents hurt more than the climbs that this point, and the final 3k/2miles into town descended over 300m/1000ft and were just miserable. I could barely lift my legs as I approached the finish, and had to be sure to run on the smooth gutters and not the cobblestones for fear of catching a toe.

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Finished (PC: Bryon Powell/iRunFar)

I finished in 10:38:14, 61st overall, and somewhat disappointed. I was happy that at no point had I considered dropping, but after what was a disappointing 18th last year in Annecy, I had come for some redemption and had fallen well short. The men’s team (Jared, Mario, and me) finished 15th out of 25 teams, a big drop from silver in 2015. Hopefully next year’s team will have a better go of things.

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Evaluating the race

In the aftermath, my legs were shot. They’re feeling better after a couple of days, but I’m still fairly sore. The biggest puzzle was trying to figure out what caused that severe cramping on the insides of both legs. When I look back at the race, I think I wasn’t drinking enough early on. Temps were cool and I was moving well. I never even came close to running out of water while almost everyone else went dry at some point, so something was clearly going on with my fluid intake and once it was too late, there was nothing I could do about it. It’s a lesson I’ll take with me into future races and hopefully it’s something I don’t have to learn again. On the positive side of things, I never doubted I’d finish. My spirits remained high and once I’d come to terms with the reality of my situation, I was smiling and having a pretty good time despite being in considerable, constant pain. I’m disappointed with the result, especially given that Andy went on to finish in the top 10 and I think that I could have had a day like that. The course was geared more towards my strengths and I really could have moved in the last 12-15k had I been able to. For some perspective, the final 12k took me 1hr48min, or 14:20 mins/mile pace – and the terrain was mostly downhill! I’ve been in Bay 2 Breakers centipedes that have run under 38 minutes for 12k. Every step really was a battle.

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Going down stairs the day after a race, no matter how badly it went, is difficult (PC: Richard Bolt)

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Exploring Porto

Finally, for the data nerds, below is a table showing distances between checkpoints, time elapsed, splits, paces, and places. I got as high as 19th place 2/3 of the way through the race before giving up 40+ spots in the final 30k/20miles. It’s most disappointing to look at those places, as my plan of starting conservative early and moving up was clearly working before the wheels came off. Oh well, that’s why we run the whole race…

As for what’s next, well, not much is currently on the calendar. I’m headed to Boston again in April and will run the Dipsea in June, but haven’t decided on a race schedule beyond that. The main reason for my lack of planning is that Rachelle and I will welcome our first child in February and I don’t really want to have any obligations heading into my newfound parenting responsibilities. But, that being said, Rachelle has already said to me that she knows I need little running goals to remain sane (which is why I’m going to Boston and one of the reasons I married her), and so I’m sure I’ll jump into some longer stuff before the year is over. In the meantime, I’m beyond excited for parenthood and the sleep deprivation/coffee consumption that is sure to follow.

And finally, before wrapping this post up, I’d just like to thank Nancy and Richard for organizing, driving, crewing, and caring for the entire team during the trip to Portugal. Things went seamlessly thanks to their tireless efforts and Yiou and I were lucky enough to be able to stuff our faces with soft pretzels in the senator’s lounge in the Frankfurt airport because those two spend so much time traveling for the good of the MUT scene. Thanks also to Bryon and Meghan and Mauri of iRunFar for their tireless efforts in covering all of these races PEWPEWPEW. And thanks to everyone else I might be forgetting who played a role in getting our team over there.

See you at the Deuce after TNF50 in December.

 

Gear:

Shoes: Nike Kiger 4 prototypes

Kit: team USA / Nike

Pack: Nike Kiger pack

Jacket: custom Nike trail jacket

Fuel: PickyBars, Gu, Coke, cake

Headlamp: Fenix HL55

 

My Strava Data until my watch died:

https://www.strava.com/activities/759520963/overview

 

And Strava data for the whole race from Andy Symonds:

https://www.strava.com/activities/759323294/overview

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9 Days to Portugal

10/20/2016

As expected, I haven’t raced since the GGP XC Open back in September. However, a lot has happened in that time, as Rachelle and I got married and went on our honeymoon to Maui for 2 weeks. The wedding itself went about as well as it could have and we both had a great time. The honeymoon was a much needed break from real life and we spent most of the time sleeping and relaxing. I tried and bailed on a couple of workouts in the first week, as the heat/humidity proved to be too much for me, so I had to dial it back and was able to complete a couple of modified workouts the second week. It was nice to finish them, at least. I know I didn’t get as much training as I would have had I been at home, but a honeymoon is a pretty rare thing in life and Koop and I agreed that my priorities needed to be not focused on running. You don’t lose much fitness over 2 weeks, anyways, and I was able to do some maintenance work, so I’m not too worried about it. It’s also nice that, like me, Rachelle is a less happy human when she doesn’t exercise, so we were able to coordinate our workout times to accommodate the semi-workouts I ran.

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Sunrise at the top of Haleakala

Once we were back, I hit put the pedal down. 3 workouts and a 28 mile long run in the first week back followed by 2 workouts and another 28 mile long run last week. This week is some ever-so-slightly lighter work and the bulk of the taper starts this coming weekend. We’ve got 10 days until the Ultra Trail World Championships and I’m feeling pretty good. Maybe a little undertrained, but that’s what happens when your training cycle runs through your wedding/honeymoon, and I’m completely fine with it. I’d rather be undertrained than overtrained, and I’ve definitely felt fitness gains on my long runs the past 2 weeks (was totally wiped after the first 28miler and felt remarkably OK after the second), so the goal right now is to get to the start line healthy. I’ve done the work. Time to make it pay off.

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Late Summer Catchup

9/15/2016

Well shoot… here I thought I’d written a post after the road mile, but it turns out I haven’t. Summer has clearly gotten away from me and quite a bit has happened in the past 2 months, so let’s get to it.

The road mile was awesome. My goal heading into the race was to run sub 4:30. I ran 4:37, but the winner only ran 4:24, so the somewhat hilly course definitely took its toll. The biggest accomplishment by far was outkicking Mario (sorry dude :-P). He and I were see-sawing back and forth, as he’d get ahead of me on the downhill parts of the course and then I’d move past him on the uphill parts. With about 300 to go, there’s a good downhill section and he moved past me to start his kick. I noticed him coming up on me heading into that portion by looking in a building window and seeing his pink shoes and despite trying to stay in front of him, he passed me with about 150 to go. However, the last 150 is a false flat and when we came around the corner, I was able to rein him back in and kick ahead into the finish. It was great. Exactly what I wanted – I stayed engaged the whole time, hurt the whole time, and came out happy. The workouts Koop prescribed did what I’d hoped and the burn was manageable. The whole Twilight Crit event was pretty damn awesome, with the men’s and women’s open miles sandwiched between the men’s and women’s pro bike races so the crowds were great and made for a very unique racing experience. Strava data: https://www.strava.com/activities/659165605

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Around the halfway mark at the San Rafael Twilight Mile

Following the road mile, I jumped into the Vo2 (aka 3 minute) intervals for the next several weeks. The next race on the calendar was Headlands 50k. I was planning on using it as a very hard training run, so I wasn’t nervous heading into it. It was the USATF 50k Trail National Championships, so competition was strong, but falling on the same day as UTMB tends to thin the herd a bit before the race even starts. My goal was to run strong and finish happy. I started out running hard and found myself near DBo and Sam Robinson. Sam went down hard(!!) at the top of Hill 88 unfortunately and ultimately ended up at the hospital after gamely continuing for 11 miles (get well soon!). I hung with DBo through the bottom of Miwok near Muir Woods but he dropped me on the climb up to Cardiac/Pantoll. My legs were shot. I began to wonder why and then remembered that this had just become my longest run since the Boston Marathon back in April. Oh boy. So I settled into a more sustainable pace and just tried to maintain. The descent down Matt Davis to Stinson was great but the climb out of Stinson was pretty rough on the Moors. Once I got into Steep Ravine, I felt a bit better and began to make up some ground. Coming into Cardiac for the 2nd and final time was a relief and I just concentrated on finishing strong. I ended up 5th overall while DBo grabbed a couple more spots to finish 3rd. Strava data here: https://www.strava.com/activities/691231925/overview

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Finishing at the Headlands 50k (PC: Jim Harleen)

The beauty of training through a race like Headlands is that you’re not fit enough to really race it so the recovery doesn’t take too too long. I spent the next week doing super easy runs in preparation for the 1st Annual Mt. Tam Hill Climb Triple Crown for Runners (which will be re-named to the Triple Goat following the constructive criticism from some members of the cycling community who do the road bike/MTB/hill climb Triple Crown, which is indeed the “true and original” Triple Crown). Anyways, the first day was the Widowmaker, starting at Camp 222 and finishing at the door on East Peak (where else). I got after it and ran a PR for the route, 28:23 (still a ways off Galen & Levi). Strava data here: https://www.strava.com/activities/699229422/overview.

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All the way to the door! (PC: YiOu Wang)

Day 2 saw us on the infinitely more runnable Old Railroad Grade, from the gate on Blithedale, through the gate on Fern Canyon Road, along Fern Canyon Road (no shortcuts), and then up the rest of ORRG to the gate at Ridgecrest before picking your own adventure to the East Peak door. The point of choosing this more runnable route was to give all sorts of hill runners a chance. The Widowmaker definitely favors those who are more “goatish” in their climbing abilities while ORRG is very runnable and so might favor a different type of climber. It’s also a nice change of muscle groups from the scrambling on Widowmaker to all-out running on ORRG. Another hearty group of souls showed up for this one and gutted it out to the top. I ran gate to gate in my 2nd fastest time (outside goal was to take down my PR but my legs were definitely a bit tired from the day before) and made it to the summit in 48:48. Strava data here: https://www.strava.com/activities/700593850/overview. Funny how the ORRG route is more than 3x farther than the Widowmaker but only takes 20 minutes more.

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A hearty (and meager) group of souls showed up for Day 2.

The 3rd and final day was the decades-old Mt. Tam Hill Climb, produced by the Stever-Slaymaker household (thank you!!). I wasn’t too sure how my legs would feel after 2 days of hard uphill, but I knew it would hurt either way. The start was fast as usual as Levi took it out hard. He pulled a couple of guys along with him, including Mario, and I stayed back a bit, wanting to see how my legs were doing. I passed the guys (Mario said he started too fast and knew it and I had to chuckle) who were trailing Levi and found myself in 2nd, watching Levi steadily get farther and farther away up the road. When we hit the cuts at the top of Summit/Fern Canyon, he was out of sight and so was everyone else behind me. I actually felt really good on the road section despite the 2 days before, but once I hit Temelpa and the real climbing kicked up, I had to hike a bit more than I’d liked. Still, I managed to keep grinding forward and seeing Rachelle at the top of Verna Dunshee was a nice surprise. I finished 2nd in 33:45 (a new PR!) and my jaw dropped when I learned that Levi had run 31:30ish. Crazy. Hill Climb record is 30:32 from 30 years ago with an open course (aka no switchbacks at the top of Temelpa), so it’s pretty safe to say Levi set the modern CR. Incredible run. Strava data here: https://www.strava.com/activities/701542939/overview

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Up top with the GOAT (aka Hill Climb winner) (PC: Kim Gaylord)

After a couple down days, I started into the tempo phase of this training cycle. It was nice to be back into that groove again, although it is rather painful. The workout went better than I thought it had when I looked back at the data, which was a nice surprise. Sunday (4 days ago) found me at the Golden Gate Park Open Cross Country race. I did a long run in the Headlands the day before with SFRC so I wasn’t expecting much, nor was I peaking in any way for this race. I just wanted to get out and see what I could do over 4 somewhat hilly, loose-footed miles. I ran 20:44 for the 4+ mile course and most agreed that it was a bit slower than in past years due to loose footing, but in any case, I was quite pleased. I got out pretty hard in the 1st mile and dug in to hold on to the group of 4-5 guys I was with through the next 2 miles. The 2nd and 4th miles are significantly more uphill than the 1st and 3rd and so that’s where I really tried to work. I stayed even with the group on the 2nd mile and then felt strong enough to move ahead of them in the 4th mile and was able to gap them just enough so that I didn’t have to kick in to the finish, which was a great relief. I was really pleased with the effort, as I remained engaged and focused the whole time and on top of that, felt strong. Taking 30 seconds off last year’s time didn’t hurt either.  Strava data here: https://www.strava.com/activities/708973278/overview

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Golden Gate Park XC Open Pain Cave (PC: Rookie)

That’s about it for now. I don’t think I’ll race again until the IAU Ultra Trail World Championships in Portugal on October 29, so it’ll mostly be grinding out some good training. The biggest challenge will likely be maintaining my fitness through our 2-week honeymoon, but I think that’s a good problem to have. Until next time!

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Diversifying My Portfolio

7/14/2016

For the past couple years, I’ve been focusing almost exclusively training for and racing ultramarathons. I’ve raced varying distances, from the beer mile to 100 miles, but the bulk of my training has been geared towards races longer than the marathon. As a result, I’ve done virtually no intervals shorter than 3 minutes (which may seem short, but isn’t if you’ve ever trained for a 5k or a mile) in the past 8-10 months. While the workouts I’ve done have gotten me in incredible shape for marathons and ultras, my short-end speed has suffered. So when I decided to race a road mile at the end of July, Jason Koop (my coach at Carmichael Training Systems) and I decided to do some mile-specific training in an effort to make it suck slightly less. I don’t have any big ultras on the schedule and I want to give it an honest effort. I am signed up for Headlands 50k at the end of August, but I’m not going to train and peak for that race, as I want to use it as a springboard for a strong fall with a race TBD at some point in the fourth quarter.

The most obvious difference is the workouts. I’ve gone from stuff like 8x3mins uphill and 4x12min tempo to a 2x (800m-600m-400m-200m) and 8x300m on the track. It’s crazy how different they feel. I got on the track 2 weeks ago for the first time since last August. It was a shock to the system to say the least. My instructions for pacing were to run “fast.” I didn’t know what sort of pace would feel fast, but I did look back at track workouts I’d done in years past to refresh my memory as to the paces I was running when I was training for the 5k and 10k. I kept those in mind as a starting point for my first 800m interval. I was able to hold it for about 200m before realizing it was unsustainable and slowing to something more maintainable. The rest of the workout was spent sucking wind after each interval and wondering how on earth I used to run paces faster than that for considerably longer workouts. For example, both 800m intervals were run at paces slower than I used to run 1200m intervals a couple years ago (and I’d do 5-6 of those 1200m intervals!). Objectively, this makes total sense, but it was still a reminder as to how different the training protocols are for the distances across the spectrum.

I had a week between the 1st and 2nd track workouts and Koop assured me that the 2nd one would feel more manageable. He was right. The adaptation that took place over the week was pretty surprising. I not only felt better during the 2nd workout (which was the same 2x 800-600-400-200), but I noticed that the recovery and endurance runs I was doing between them felt much better. I was running at faster paces than normal and felt much more able to sustain them for a longer time. That overall better feeling was likely due to the shorter workouts and lower overall volume relative to ultra workouts, but it was still nice to feel peppy on most days in a week as opposed to just one or two. On the whole, I currently feel faster and sharper than I did during ultra training. Again, this is a seemingly obvious result but it serves a greater purpose than just getting me in (relatively faster) shape for a mile.

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Flats for fast running!

What purpose is that? Simply to make myself remember that a change of scenery (or in this case, workout and race pace/distance) is necessary every once in a while. It reminds your legs what it’s like to run truly fast. There are different physiological (and psychological) benefits to changing up the sort of training you’re doing, and I’m really enjoying them. That and my racing flats that have been so neglected are finally getting some love. I might even break out the spikes for the final 8x200m workout. It’s such a different feeling from slogging through the long ultra workouts. The track work is almost refreshing in a way, kind of like barefoot strides after an easy run. I was sprawled on the track gasping for air after the final interval of my 8x300m workout on Tuesday. I can’t remember the last time I felt like I couldn’t stand after a workout. It was exhilarating (and painful), but the pain subsided quickly and the cooldown wasn’t bad at all. That’s the beauty of changing things up. It keeps any one system from getting stagnant and I think is a very important aspect of maintaining solid overall fitness. Plus, when you are running intervals at full-tilt, the pace of an ultra seems downright pedestrian, which is a huge psychological benefit and results in the feeling of: I could do this all day! And it’s a good thing because that’s likely what you’ll be doing 😛

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8×300 w/ Mr. Hinde (PC: Mario Fraioli)

In the present, I’ve got a couple more mile-specific workouts before the race on July 30 and then I’ll likely turn my attention back to the longer stuff. But for now, I’m going to enjoy every day of mile training. And I will return to it again sooner rather than later as I’d forgotten the benefits it provides.

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Mostly the 106th Dipsea (woof)

So it’s been almost 2 months and in that time, I think I’ve successfully determined the cause and treated the bulk of what’s been plaguing my hip since January (knock on wood!). After Boston, a friend suggested I schedule an appointment with Marty Mattox at Ultrahealth (http://www.ultrahealth.org/index.php). Within 5 minutes of our first meeting, she’d told me that my right SI joint (in my hip) was an inch lower than my left. I got on the treadmill and she noticed that my right leg was crossing over my left on my stride. She thought it was likely an issue with my right glute not firing, which was causing my hip to drop and put stress on my IT band which manifested in pain in my upper/inner thigh/hip. So we had some work ahead of us. She started me on a regime of glute strengthening exercises. The nice thing was that the hip seemed to have stabilized and wasn’t getting any worse with training, so I didn’t really have to back off too much on the hard days but I made sure to make the easy days very easy and take time off when needed. Koop and I worked out a plan to get me in the best shape we could for Dipsea and I started running workouts about 10 days after Boston, with just about 7 weeks until Dipsea.

While the workouts themselves usually went pretty well, I still felt compromised from the hip issue. There wasn’t a lot of pain during the workouts but the day after was usually quite uncomfortable and I was just really fed up with running in pain/discomfort. I ran the workouts hard and same some decent results, but I never really felt like I was truly up to speed at any point. That being said, I was still optimistic that Dipsea day would be good, as my leg steadily improved with the glute strengthening exercises and frequent appointments with Marty.

During the build to Dipsea, I ran Bay to Breakers with the West Valley centipede. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I don’t think I ever want to run this race untethered. Too much fun. Plus, when I started dragging ass up the Hayes Street Hill (likely due to the workout I’d run the day before), I was very thankful for the cords and the towing that my teammates did. I contemplated dropping off in the park, but managed to stick with it and thankfully the helmet hid my pain face for the most part. Our team ran a great time, finishing a fairly close 2nd to the winning ‘pede. Strava data: https://www.strava.com/activities/577019570/overview

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Nearing the top of the Hayes Street Hill

 

A couple weeks after B2B found me at Marin 10k. I had no Vo2 max workouts under my belt, so I expected it to hurt and hurt it did. I went out comfortably hard and held pace pretty well, but I never felt like I had that top end speed/gear that you really need to run a fast 10k (or 5k). I was pleased with the effort and knew that it would benefit me for Dipsea, but I was slightly concerned with the lack of speed in my legs. Granted, the race fell at the end of a particularly strenuous week, with 4 workouts in 7 days, but I still felt off. The hip held up pretty well, which was reassuring, though. Strava data here: https://www.strava.com/activities/593135822/overview

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Feeling a lack of top-end speed at Marin 10k (PC: Pam Wendell)

13 days after Marin 10k was the 106th Dipsea. I went into the race feeling pretty good and thought I had a good shot at running the fastest time, though it would be difficult with Rickey, Galen, and Gus all running pretty well in the weeks leading into the race. At least we all run for the Pelican Inn Track Club. Gus and I started our final year in the scratch group (hallelujah for a 1-minute handicap next year!) and were near the front of the group as we hit the stairs. We regrouped on the 3rd flight and I trailed Gus up to Windy Gap (8:10 to the 1 mile rock) and down through Muir Woods (15:00). He remained 20-30 meters in front of me for basically the whole climb up to Cardiac, during which I realized that my legs had absolutely no pop in them. I hit halfway rock in 9:20 (24:20 total) and knew I was in for a tough 2nd half of the climb and race. I managed to keep Gus within view and even closed a bit on him as we crested Cardiac (2nd half climb: 9:25 for 18:45 total climb – the slowest since I started keeping track in 2010). I think I saw Seb, Emily, Brett and Erika on the final push to Cardiac but couldn’t even bring myself to smile (but thanks for cheering!). Kim and Toph and a few others who are fairly hazy were at the top of the climb and it was great to hear some familiar voices. As we topped out and started the descent to the beach, I knew I was going to be unable to stay with Gus. He pulled away from me as we headed down towards the Swoop and I never saw him again, only hearing his trademark bike horn fading further and further into the distance.

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Gus and I (background) at the top of Cardiac (PC: Gerald Aganza)

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Trying to lengthen my stride starting the long descent to Stinson (PC: Chris Blagg)

I made my way around several people on the way down through Steep Ravine and knew it was a really tough day when I had trouble pulling away from a couple of masters guys on Panoramic. I came through the stile and saw no one on the road ahead of me until I made the 2nd to last left turn and saw Hans Schmid. I put my head down and went for it, nipping him right before the line to finish 13th in 50:52 (slowest time since 2009 and slowest Cardiac to beach time since I started keeping track). Strava data here: https://www.strava.com/activities/607318595/overview

Dipsea Comps

Dipsea split comparisons (8.10 = 8 mins 10 seconds not 8.1 mins)

The Dipsea truly is the only race where you can outkick a septuagenarian (or a 9yo kid) and not feel too bad about it. Don’t feel too bad for Hans, though, he’s won this race before and became the oldest person to win a black shirt J I hope to be running half as well as he is when I reach his age.

The Pelicans had 5 of the top 10 runners and the 5 fastest times on the day (and 11 out of 35 black shirts!). Together, Matias, Rickey, Galen, Gus, and Alan were our top 5 and brought home the team trophy. Here’s hoping I can break back into the team scoring next year 😛 All in all, it was a great day and despite my sub-par race, I walked away with a smile on my face and am already looking forward to next year.

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Pelican Inn Track Club – team title and 11/35 black shirts

Next up is a road mile on July 30 in San Rafael (https://raceroster.com/events/2016/9033/san-rafael-sunset-1-mile-and-criterium) and then probably the Headlands 50k in August. I’m hoping to get some good training in for Headlands, but honestly, the motivation is lacking a bit right now. Thankfully, I had almost no pain in my hip during the Dipsea and didn’t have any on my run last night, so I think once my brain realizes that running doesn’t hurt anymore, that may turn around. If not, it may just become a fun long run in preparation for cross country and a TBD goal race in the fall.

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