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2013, The Price of Success.

My 2013 Ohlone 50k was 21 seconds to 3rd — today, I’m 1 day to walking.

What happened?  A treasured 2013 season in which I grew as a runner, a coach, was welcomed to GuEnergy Labs GUCrew, and continued to see 1 hour course PRs… an unbelievable Lake Sonoma, Ohlone, and States… all built up to the transitional 2014 season I had dreamed about from the moment I read about elite trail runners.  I’ve always, without question, known I could run faster.  2014 was the year for me to shed mental boundaries, turn fear to confidence, and become the runner I so vividly see nightly.

This year sat soundly on the success of 2013 and from the emergence from its challenges – going blind.  I shake my head writing this but, YES, I went legally blind at the end of 2013 due, in part, to Western States.  Suffering from Late Onset Cornea Hazel (LOCH) I could not longer drive, run technical trails, EVERYTHING outside my 15 foot immediate radius was a textured blur.  I called it shower door vision and it took away my world – every part of it.

I found a “trail” to healing, working with my PRK surgeon, to running again after a total of 4 eye surgeries coupled with the profound help & guidance of ultra-runner and research ophthalmologist Tracy Hoeg.  Dr. Hoeg was like an angel in the process helping me to navigate the unique course ultrarunners walk, through the health care system.

I’ll write more on this, but to whisk over it, my LOCH blindness was most likely caused by UV-B exposure post PRK surgery while training and participating in the Western States 100.  It was the correlation I did not want to be, but it was.  Western States blinded me.

I’m Screwed!AIFTL Repair

2014 begin with a deep appreciation for the simplicity of life’s basics: Family, Health, Vision, Work, Coaching.  I also realized, running was the glue which allowed me to approach each of these treasured things with love and energy.  The entry back into running was with caution.  On one hand it was something I loved, it’s in the fibers of me; the other hand held a fear of it.  For you could easily build the bartered proposition of, “Would you chose running or sight?”  With all of Dr. Hoeg’s help and the opinion of my Lasik surgeon we really did not know if I’d experience a relapse of LOCH when running again (there’s a waiting period of 4-6 months post surgery to find out).  So every run was in fear, fear of losing sight and fear of losing running.  I cried a lot.  I was lonely and lost.  Yet I couldn’t stop, the trail was me and I felt my connection to it fading far too much.

With each run into 2014 my confidence grew, my connection to the trails grew, and my fitness re-aligned to my 2013 success.  I felt back and back in a new way – my slow ramp up was building a base of strength and speed I’d never experience before.  Combined with each month passing without any LOCH symptoms I felt good.

My race schedule fell into place with 2 key races on the 2014 horizon:  Ohlone 50k and the inaugural Tahoe 200.  I was coming into the year’s races strong and shifted for a continued, smartly choreographed, build up to something inside that I always knew was there but fearful in letting it out.  I dipped into it in 2013 but this year was the time and I had played it smart and was feeling the rewards.  An added fuel was being graciously accepted as one of the GuCrew by GuEnergy labs of which I’m a heavy user of their products.  I sought them out for a reason and was ready to rise.

Then, the unexpected happened.  After running over and volunteering an hour at the Coastal Trail Runs’ Montara mountain event I was re-traversing the mountain on my way home.  Renegade mountain bike trails were my fix that week, so I took one, but slow.  During that I planted my right foot on a downhill traverse… and snap. I couldn’t put weight on it so I hopped on one leg down “The Wall” (practicing for uni-legged Easter) and found a stick to unload some pressure.

Fast forward 5 weeks with zero running and I still wasn’t okay.  I decided the Feb. Western States Training run would be a litmus test – still “off”.  The next weekend I ran, and DNF’d, Inside Trail Running’s Montara Mountain trail holding together well on the uphill with the downhill weaving a story of shit ain’t right.

To the doctor I went which opened an afternoon of medically trained professionals showering me with “I’m so sorry.”  What? It didn’t sink in, yet my x-rays were case perfect depictions of a Syndesmosis Ligament rupture, or specifically my Anterior Inferior Tibular Fibula Ligament (AITFL) the ligament that holds my Tiba and Fibula together, especially under impact forces.

I was done.

The “I’m So Sorrys” were revealed as the course of treatment presented included 2 surgeries and 84 days on crutches completely non-weight bearing.

I was screwed, literally.

Getting Unscrewed

Tomorrow, after 83 days of crutches and over 17 weeks of not really running I take my 2nd step forward into recovery, sliding ever so slowly back to my house and my people.  The retraction has been difficult; I watched Solstice (Western States running movie) last night and cried – I want to be back doing that and I’m almost there, kind of.

Visiting My MountainInto this step I take tremendous patience grown from this process, respect for other runners that are bumped from the sport from injury, and the deepest veined appreciation for what it means to gaze to a mountain top and feel it in you, in a way that the summit is yours whenever you need it.  Because, right now my summit may as well be on the Moon at a time when I need it the most. I miss my smile, the one I get when running to visit.

I’m getting unscrewed.  I’m getting closer to there.

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I’ve written a few blog posts that haven’t made the “publish” command. To name a few there’s my Wasatch race report and an ITR Brooks Falls race report. For much different reasons I haven’t posted them. My Brooks Falls initial write-up weighted rather critically on ITR’s inaugural event. As such I didn’t feel right in throwing something like that into the internet nethers. I refrained.

This weekend I’ll be heading to Pacifica once again to run Coastal Trail Runs’ Montara Mountain 50k event. It’s challenging course and great opportunity to up my long run mileage from the 20 mile range. Truth be told I’m really enjoying racing the 30 km distance, but the time has come for me to get back to work on the ultra distances. I love the CTR Entrant’s List format because pre-race I can see who’ll be there – both friends and competition. Yup, I ran most of the names through ultrasignup.com and found I have a pretty good chance at running top 5 again (although that’s changing by the day, even hour). We’ll see how the legs recover from last weekend’s 30k PR.

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Training - Week 17

There’s a lot building up in the month of May.  Period.  With only 8.43 weeks left until Western States this month holds the training substance for a successful late June 100 mile race.  Needless to say, my trepidation is on the rise resulting in an aggressive increase of my weekly running miles — far more than is advised by either my PT or my Podiatrist.  “Do you think it’s the smartest thing to run 31 miles after only being able to run 11 miles last week?”  Allison, my PT,  gently warns.

I can say, with tempered jubilation, that last week I hit a 46 mile training week and 31 of those miles were packed into 1 lovely training day at Butano State Park.  In my mind, I NEEDED this heading into Miwok.  My body NEEDED the pop of a good 50k to dodge the horror that could be Miwok.  As much as I’ve cross trained there is simply no substitute for a long mult-hour run leading into any ultramarathon distance.  However, a rapid increase in mileage does not come without consequence.  Five days out from my 31 mile run I’m once again experiencing tenderness and an arthritic ache in my boo-boo which could have been avoided if I conformed to a standard recovery plan of increasing mileage at a rate of 10% per week.  I’m not worried, yet…  but reminded that I’m mostly mortal and not made of mileage resistant titanium.

This naturally flows into, “What is my goal for Miwok?”  For that matter, what should anyone’s goal be during a training race when running injured?  The simple answer is get the training miles with as little aggravation to the injury as possible thus minimizing the immediate post race damage but also the loss in training days directly after the run.  It does ya no good to run a 62 mile race when afterwards, you’re out of training for 2-3 weeks.  The cumulative effect is a loss in fitness rather than a gain.  Because this is a training run, things are different.  This simple thought must be re-visited throughout the run when the urge to push the pace creeps in.  Ironically, I have this pre-race conversation before many races and I rarely heed my own words.  It’s harder than most think.  I have a secondary goal of working my hydration and nutrition.  I’ll build from my Foresthill to Finish successful combinations and fine tune from there.

With all that, I’d say my Miwok time will be in the 13 hour range — maybe faster, likely not much slower.  That’s an extremely easy 12:30 min/mile pace.

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I have multiple memories, moments, and encounters that fuel my perseverance through adversity… especially when I sense I’m dragging, lacking in motivation. Here are a few quotes that are on my mind right now:

“I never give up!” — Elias Dill
“Never, never, never give up.” — Winston Churchill
“I’m really sure in myself.” — Jure Robic
“Dad, can you run forever?” — Franz Dill
“The difference is, they just don’t stop.” — Anonymous
“Your real self, there is no limit.” — Julie Moss

Recovery is going well. I’ll publish a run-down shortly !!!

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Hoping to return to racing for the Napa Marathon, I’ve been cross-training on the stationary bike, doing yoga, weight lifting, and walking.
— I miss my 7 mile trail runs during lunch
— I sulked at the fleeting opportunity to run through the snow on in my Monte Bello stomping grounds.
— I frown with jealousy at other runners frolicking, limp-free.

Needless to say, I’ve been sacrificing my sanity and happiness for the better good of allowing my injury to heal. Progress has been good. Through the week I was pain free in my normally functioning life that consisted of walking, sitting, and riding a bike. I was confident that my rest would pay off — and was looking forward to RUNNING this week to shake the cobwebs loose in time for a wonderful marathon with friends abound.

With less than a week to go before the Napa marathon, on Monday to be exact, I laced up for the first time in many weeks to run a flat trail and test the system. The test, not so good. It took easily 2 miles for my left inside ankle to loosen up resulting in the pain decreasing a little. I almost cut the run short at 1.5 miles and ran back. Pressing forward I ran on with my pain levels waxing and waning. My thought process was to take it slow, the pain was just some rust. I can run through pain, but the situation is much larger… do I want to run through this pain? Is it the smart choice.

I completed the run happy to have been out, but depressed in the lack of healing. Before I was 100% in running Napa, now I’m more like 50%. There’s NO doubt I can do it but it might not be the right thing to do hammering a road race under the influence of vitamin I (which I’m certain I’d need in some capacity).

Even bigger, there’s a voice in my head hinting that I may have a stress fracture and not just an inflamed tendon. My doctor’s appointment cannot come soon enough!

And to think, just 3-4 weeks ago I said I felt stronger and faster than EVER. :::Sigh:::

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Week of 2/7/11
Weekly Mileage: 48 Miles ( 5 mile tempo run, 2.5 mile speed work, 2 long runs ).
Cross Training: 2 days at the gym working abs, back, core, and stationary bike hill workouts.
Training Notes: The consistent tempo runs and speed work are new to my training. Normally 100 mile race, or the Slam for that matter, I wouldn’t bother with speed work. However, I’m running the Napa Marathon in 2.5 weeks and wanted increase my body’s comfort with a quicker pace. In retrospect, I’ve added too many new components to training in a short period resulting in a inflammation of my left anterior tibial tendon in the high ankle area. The upcoming week is a challenging week of cross training and decisions. The original plan was to run the Lake Chabot 50k this weekend. The big question is do I run it, ratchet down in distance, or skip it all together?

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It all started with a simple question:  How can I run from Home (La Honda) to work (Cupertino) on trails?  I knew of the connector between Long Ridge OSP and Portola SP but that took me too far south to be a reasonable route.  Rumor had it, from the “horse” people in La Honda, that there was another trail route from La Honda to Skyline.  Between piecing together vague directions from assorted people, studying Google maps, and taking a few weeks for exploratory trail runs the La Honda loop was born.

I invited a great group of friends to share the run.  The start list read as follows:  Ron Little, Mike Weston, Georganna Quarles, and Mark Nassi.  We met shortly before 8:30AM at my house in La Honda for a 35 mile loop that shoots up to Skyline, traverses the Bay Area Ridge Trail, then drops down through Portola Redwoods SP on the return trip to La Honda.  In route were some of the best trail the Bay Area has to offer, most unknown to the mass of bay area trail runners.

Tackling the Streets of Cuesta, photo Ron Little

With a “5, 4, 3, 2, 1 GO” from Eli we were off, eastbound along highway 84.  We all went through introductions and caught up with old friends and made new.  I was so captivated in hearing about Georganna and Mark’s upcoming UTMB 166 km adventure, I completely missed pointing out Ken Kesey’s old cabin, famous for the antics of the Kool-Aid Acid tests and the birth place of the novel One Flew over the Koo-Koo’s nest.  Fortunately the loop passed it twice and I’d get a 2nd chance at playing La Honda crazy person tour guide.  We made our way through Cuesta, a small neighborhood in La Honda, comprised of small cabins and newly built wooded getaways from the “over the hill” city life.  While running along the duck pond we had to slow for a group of 4 ducks waddling around at the roadside.

Eventually we transitioned from streets onto the secluded trails of the La Honda watershed, built and maintained by a group of La Honda residents.  Complete with covered aluminum ladders bridging the banks of a trickling creek, we meandered towards Rapley Ranch road on a series of unmarked and almost invisible trails.

George & Mark @ La Honda Watershed, photo Ron Little

A quick and steep climb up provided our first views of upper Cuesta and, if it weren’t so foggy, the distant ocean.  There we were greeted by a interesting landmark – the Stanford astronomer’s personal observatory.  The “trail” widened to a fire road which gave us plenty of time to catch up with each other.  We shared Miwok, Western States, Cascade Crest, Dick Collins, and Oakland marathon stories.

Cresting into the entry point of Russian Ridge OSP we saw Mike and Connie (Mike’s wife) setup and waiting – thankfully they didn’t leave because we were 30 minutes behind schedule 🙂

La Honda Watershed, photo Ron Little

We filled up on water and some boiled potatoes while Mike suited up for his 28 mile version of the run – after all he’s running Skyline to Sea in 8 days so this is suppose to be a taper week for him!  I must also mention.  Mike was awesome because he was wearing a “Franz’s Inaugural Fat Butt, 28 Mile Division” shirt!  That was so cool to see!!!

Skyline OSP - Gazing toward the Pacific, photo Ron Little

Off we went skirting the ridge on the Bay Area Ridge trail heading south towards Long Ridge OSP.  As most of you know by now, there’s a big spring storming hitting the Bay Area.  Well, Saturday was the front portion of the storm.  No real rain to speak of but LOTS of wind.  Portions of Russian Ridge were corridors, funneling the wind right at us easily gusting to 30+ mph.  The irony here is that for most of us this was a Miwok training run.  And the weather on the hills was so reminiscent of Miwok 2009 (Bolinas Ridge to Pantoll) it was uncanny – Mother Nature was giving us a sweet reminder of years past!

Mile 12 Skyline OSP

We eventually descended to mile 12’s Skyline OSP parking lot and our 2nd aid station.  Jen and the boys were awesome having been waiting 1 hour before our arrival, they still had a smile on their faces when we arrived and happily helped us fuel up.  The spread included potatoes, fresh baked cookies, trail mix, soda, Pringles, and pretzels.   It was wonderful.  I of course had to see the wonderful bugs that Eli had collected while waiting for us, and Max showed me some large rocks – asking me to lift them up.  He also gave me a tour of “The Gross” (aka the pit toilet).

Georganna rounding Horseshoe Lake, photo Ron Little

With another countdown from Eli we were off on a 12 mile stretch through Skyline OSP, Long Ridge OSP, and onto Portola Redwoods SP.  During a rounding of horseshoe lake we encountered upwards of 50 people mulling about with notepads deep in concentration.  Some staring into the lake and others and different plants and even wildlife scat.  I stopped and asked a friendly woman, “May I ask what you’re doing?”  She responded with a smile that a world renown naturalist was there working with them (most of them docents) on developing outdoor activities for kids.  How cool is that?!?!  Sorry I don’t remember the Naturalist’s name.

Ward Road Intersection, photo Ron Little

Continuing forward we all settled into a groove eventually finding the course’s major decent into Portola Redwoods SP along Ward road and the beautiful Slate Creek trail.  One of the most beautiful and rarely used trails in the redwoods the Slate Creek trail was meandering soft downhill single-track lined with abundant plumes of redwood sorrel and groves of 2nd growth redwoods.  A majority of the trail holds Slate Creek to its left offering the wonderful sound of a babbling creek amongst our footstrikes.  Leor Pantilat captured the beauty of the trail a mere 7 days before our run in a wonderful post with video and pictures.  It’s absolute heaven to run through!  We ALL had huge grins during this part of the run!

To our surprise we ran into Gary Gellin out by himself sawing downed trees along the trail.  What an awesome act!  We all stopped and introduced ourselves and thanked him for the gesture.  He went on to tell us about a 50k race him and Leor Pantilat are hosting at Bog’s Mountain on October 31st.  Rumor is there may even be beer and the finish line!  Although Gary offered a 2nd saw to help with tree removal we had to decline as Jen was waiting 4 miles below at the nearby Portola Redwoods ranger station.  I just couldn’t make her wait too long after that 1 hour wait back at Skyline OSP.

The wonderful single track continued and the foreshadowing of Gary cutting down trees was the theme for the remainder of the Slate Creek Trail.  One after the next we were bushwhacking and branch-dodging downed trees as we approached mile 23, our next rendezvous with Jen and the boys.  Alas we made it, discovering an empty parking lot.  After waiting a few minutes I decided to run up the road to check the upper parking lot – there was Jen, just arriving.  Perfect timing and with WARM chicken noodle soup.  She’s awesome!  Our time out was around 6 hours at this point (I think).  I reviewed the next 7 mile section with Georganna and Mark and they made the decision to call it a day at the 23 mile distance – hitching a ride back in the aid-mobile.  We missed you two!!!

Mike on Brook Trail, photo Ron Little

Mike, Ron, and I continued on and were quickly greeted by another downed tree!  Forward along the Iverson/Pomponio trails we soon reached the prison with its ominous signs and warnings.  This time we caught a glimpse of the actual prison through the redwood cover as the Pomponio trail looped around the compound and up the ridge – kind of eerie and Barkley-esk.  The soft redwood lined single-track soon gave way to tan oaks and oaks as we ascended the Bear Ridge and Brook trails, then finally to the lush green fields of the nearby Hiker’s Hut.

We all began smelling the final aid station ahead,  mile 31 for Ron and I and mile 24 for Mike, at the Sam McDonald ranger station.  We breezed past the Jack Brook horse camp on the Towne Fire road and dropped into the parking lot ahead were Jen was again waiting with again, a wonderful spread.

Dill Boys in the Stump, photo Ron Little

The boys found a HUGE hollowed redwood stump to crawl in that entertained them to no end – especially the secret escape hole at the bottom.

Four miles left and one last park to traverse!  We were off on the twisting and turning, up and down, meandering… almost dizzying Forest Loop trail.  Finally we hit the fire road and re-grouped for the final steep ascent to highway 84.  After passing park housing nestled along the creek we emerged onto highway 84 and were able to stretch the legs a bit.  This time I was able to point out the Ken Kesey cabin to which I learned once had a sign in front that said:  “No left turn unstoned”.

We closed out the day with some great chili, again by the wonderful Jen, and some beer and wine.

Thanks EVERYONE for coming out:  Mike, Ron, Georganna, and Mark.
Thanks Connie & Mike for pulling together the 1st aid station!
Thanks to Jen for her tremendous help in the preparation and delivery of the run support. You made the experience so enjoyable for us! Thanks so much, Love!

I’m hoping to make this a yearly event so come April next year, expect an email 🙂

Ron’s photo stream.

Franz.

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