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CIM 2012 Start – Photo Credit: Paul Kitagaki Jr. | pkitagaki@sacbee.com

The buzz of 2012 was weather, not just among the runners but everyone. While potty-breaking for our 4 year old on our drive up to Sacramento I eased dropped on a Berkeley man’s cell phone call in an REI: “Tomorrow morning (Sunday) I’m driving up to Sacramento directly into the jaws of the biggest storm of the century.” I couldn’t help but grin cheek-to-cheek and almost stopped and told him I’ll be running into those jaws, and LIKE it.

That became my race day mantra: Into the Jaws of the Storm!

Most times the weather is exaggerated, but true to reports, once we arrived at the Expo the skies unleashed such a volume of rain that within 5 seconds of us being out of the car we were drenched. In the 5 minutes we took to shelter in the Expo center our clothes harbored so much water Jen was wringing out cup fulls of it from her pants. Crowds of runners huddled at the Expo doors gawking at the comical rain – many taking pictures and video.

We saw fellow CRCer Ron and his friend Dana at the Expo, which was GREAT. Since he was going miss the CRC group dinner because of a big pre-race dance party on the docket {::wink::wink:: Ron} it was good to wish him the best before the race.  At the time, I thought it unlikely we’d see each other race day because of all the dang people.

Off we went to the hotel to get some rest then head out for dinner. A quick change of plans called for a wonderful (and rainy) walk into Old Town Sacramento with Mor, Mandy, Margaret, and Jim from the CRC.  We meandered into Fat City Bar and Cafe and immediately dipped into some bread while discussing race strategies. Around the table most ordered pasta pre-race meals. I couldn’t help but indulge in my primordial craving for some chicken fried steak – and boy was it GOOD! The culinary choice did draw curious looks from the CRC crowd.

Race Morning!

Race Morning!

Get out of bed time finally arrived after I had been waking up every hour on the hour. I ate some bread from last night’s dinner and Cliff and Luna bars donated to my breakfast cause by Mandy and Mor (thanks!). Note to self:  pack your dang oatmeal and banana next time!

I went down to the lobby to catch the 5:00AM one-way bus to the starting line. Still no rain yet but the wind was increasing with unsettled weather; you could tell some big weather was building. The bus ride was fun.  I loved listening in on all the excited/nervous chatter, especially with the weather being so threatening. The gentleman next to me was trading text messages and I saw him get emotional after one.  I angled over managing to casually read it:

You’ve trained so hard for this, but if conditions are too bad there’s no shame in not running. We love you.

He ran.

The gentleman one row up and across the aisle seemed unfazed by the entire ordeal.  He too was texting but it was something to do with state laws (completely non-race related) while rummaging through his drop bag and eating all kinds of foods. He was a busy guy. Once his texting was done he put on some sun screen.  Really?  The UV index = 0 and there are black clouds outside. He was kind enough to offer everyone else the sunscreen. No one took it. And yes, I’m nosy and I also noticed he had a personal roll of toilet paper in there too. This guy was READY and awesome comic relief.

While driving up 80 to Folsom the rain started pouring and the wind rocked the yellow school bus.  In the darkness we saw a huge flash that lacked the trailing rumble of thunder. We concluded it was a nearby transformer that exploded. Grrreat.

We finally arrived at the start. There must have been 20-30 large school buses parked really close to each other. The doors opened and a few runners ventured out including me. Off I darted to the porto-potties in my running gear + temporary garbage bag rain coat. The garbage bag immediately whipped up into my face as I thought about the small child suffocation dangers abound.  After wrestling it down I made it to the 200+ line of porto-potties with zeros lines.  Once in I realized this was a great shelter from the wind (a little teal colored oasis that smelled funny). Leaving it the wind ripped the door from my hand and smashed it into the adjacent porto.  Dang, it was windy! I darted back to the bus to shelter in place. I found that many non-bus riders were now in the bus trying stay warm with 45 minutes until race start. In fact simply standing in the make-shift bus city was reprieve from the elements and warm — thank you diesel exhaust.

The weather got so bad that race officials reversed the one-way rule and runners were allowed to ride the bus back to the hotel.

This created an odd partition of runners waiting to ride the bus of shame and runners waiting until the last minute to leave the confines of their warm school child shelter.  Fifteen minutes to race start I gave in to the mounting peer pressure and ventured into the weather. Drop bag deposited in the Ryder truck, now off to the start to find my place in the 6,000+ garbage clad runner mob. I looked for the 3:00 pace group and didn’t see them; it was minor chaos. Anyone attempting to hold a sign up had it immediately blown down so I figured it would pop up eventually. Some quick warm-ups and a GU and I was ready. Interestingly just before the race began stuff began flying everywhere. I saw someone in the crowd throw a rain drenched sweatshirt to the side only to land on the side of another runners’ face with its arms twirling around to complete the cranial hug. Unfazed the runner simply unwrapped it and continued on with his pre-race routine. It was weird!

The race began and it starts fast! The start immediately goes downhill and the runners bolt for warmth. It’s crowded, some trip, there are clothes and trash bags flying everywhere. My biggest obstacles were 1) runners just cutting me off 2) the speed bumps in the middle of the roads and 3) manhole covers.

Runners packed together to wedge through the elements.  Rain poured, Wind ripped. It was really fun. At times it rained so hard the drops stung my lips. We passed some brave spectators and in the early miles runners were still throwing off their clothes. One spectator yelled, “Ya! Take your clothes off for me.” I figured he wasn’t talking to me so I kept mine on.

As the miles passed I settled in with the 3:05 pace group, a mob of 20-30 runners so closely packed I’m still baffled as to how no one tripped. It was also an intimidating group because when they ran up on you it was like a stampede of bison.  Wavering runners were engulfed then excreted out the back.  On 3 occasions I attempted to leave the herd but working outside of it was difficult and required a lot more energy. I would be sucked back in, typically riding its left side, until my next attempt.  While tucked away in the group the pace leader would intermittently hold up his “3:05” sign.  Once a wind gust caught it and it whipped back and almost smacked me in the face. I also really, really, really recognized the pace group leader from Western States but simply could not place his name.  I later found out it was Erik Skaden, 2 time Montrail UltraCup Champion and 8x Western States finisher with his fastest time being a 2nd place 16:36 !

By the way the even more famous Tim Tweitermyer was the 3:35 pace group leader behind us!

Around the 13.1 mile mark the headwinds eased and I was able to once and for all dash ahead and leave the herd behind with their sign flailing, monster ultrarunning legend. I hit the 1/2 mark at 1:31:30 and felt good but was slightly slowing and a feeling of building lactic acid in my legs. I GUd up, attempted to drink on the run (most went up my nose), and picked up the pace. This was the sub-3 decision point and I began to push. My energy waned a bit as the miles flipped by; I found myself checking my watch all too often.  That’s usually a sign I’m tired. My stomach grumbled and I GU’d some more which lifted me.  I saw another ultrarunner Jady Palko ahead and took a moment to say hello. He mentioned you look fresh, why aren’t you way up there? I bid him luck then motored off.

Shortly after this very familiar bright orange CRC shirt pulled up to me and said, “Franz?” It was Ron. He was by far the best closer in the bunch of runners around us. He was running smooth and effortless while most struggled the last 6.2 miles. I yelled out something like, “Ron, SMASH IT!” as he pranced ahead. Inspiring, I too kicked up the speed. I felt Ron driving toward a sub-3 and thought he could pull me. Over the miles it was just too much to run at a sub-7 pace to keep up.  The orange, pumpkinish blur that was Ron faded into the crowd ahead. I was happy to see him execute such a great race plan and honored to have worked so hard to race a fast marathon and that work to have put me within a few minutes of finishing with Ron.

Home Stretch, Pointing to Mackie and Jen.

Home Stretch, Pointing to Mackie and Jen.

About 0.3 miles from the finish I hear the lovely Jen screaming! With the rain and having Max this was the only place she could see me and it was wonderful having that blast of energy from her to help me close it out. I saw Max wrapped up and smiling. I burst out with a “HEY MACKO!!!!” and pointed to him as my inspiration. This trip, although filled with running, was a great time for him; he reveled in the Mom and Dad alone time and having the hotel bathtub all to himself!

Through a quick series of left turns I finished in 3:03:39 well under my 3:10:00 Boston Qualifying time and a huge marathon PR of 35 minutes (granted my other marathon was the Sedona marathon — much, much, harder).

At the finish I quickly found Jen and Max and gave them both hugs, kisses, and shared some chocolate milk. It was still pouring and Max was turning a bluish-gray so we had to move along rather quickly without cheering in more CRCers (I wish I could have but the weather just wasn’t working with my little family).

We did see Ron.  He did wonderfully and finished in 3:01:32 and was all smiles. Mixed in between Ron and I was Dr. Dan Rhodes but I missed him in the finish chute.

Amazing Job EVERYONE from the CRC and beyond!!!

Ron: 3:01:33
Dan Rhodes: 3:02:59
Franz: 3:03:40
Todd: 3:20:07
Mor: 3:37:03
Margaret: 4:36:22
Jim: 4:37:18
Rachael Sage: 4:00:07

Rachel Weeks: 5:28:34

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CIM, December 2012

The road marathon that I’ve been training for is almost here – a mere 5 days away.  The training is done, while the tamper leaves the delicate balance of keeping my legs awake while maintaining their “freshness”.  It’s a dance many runners play and prominently stray towards training too much up to race day. It’s a fine tuned, individual, art that’s constantly shifting.

My typical pre-race week routine goes something like this:

  • Lock down kid sitter
  • Lock down dog sitter
  • Is Jen going? Put together a race day packet with directions.
  • Check my hotel reservation
  • Check weather {It’s gonna rain like the dickens!} That’s right, there’s a severe flood warning issued through race day because of all the freak’n rain that’s about to pour down on us.
  • Now onto gear, what am I wearing and what gear do I take?
  • What’s my fueling and hydration look like? I think I’ll just open my mouth and drink from the sky!
  • I start thinking about goals and pace. How do I break down the course to hit a Boston Qualifying Time of 3:10:00? How do I break down the course for a 2:59:59 finish time? Where’s the no turning back point in the race where I push for my tier 1 goal?

Finally, in an attempt to wrap my mind around the innards of the race where the meat of the race resides – the emotion, I read blogs. Typically lots of them. So many I probably push corporate IT weblogs into the GB size. Although I dislike writing the mile-by-mile race recaps I love reading them!

In my pre-race blogging, virtual dance I’ll typically find a story so inspirational that my menial worries are completely disbanded, crushed. Rain? Pouring Rain? Am I worried simply about being wet and cold for a fraction of the day? I was…

Today I found that I’ll be running side-by-side with Rachel Weeks at CIM 2012.  Rachael will be running her first marathon in 5 days with her sister guiding her 26.2 miles using a waist tether and a catalog of signals.  Rachael will not only be running CIM blind due to a degenerative retinal disease but also deaf from the age of 3. It’s people like Rachael that define the power of positive thought. Today, I take from her story a HUGE reminder of perspective, a re-definition of strength, and a deep gratitude for the health of my friends and family.

Crossing the CIM finish line Sunday will no doubt be another amazing story in my running book, but finishers like Rachael are the true finishers in a path much larger than the race at hand.

For this year’s 39th running of the Western States and my 3rd consecutive year running I wish I could capture a converging moment where tailored training, course experience, and race day drive notched together in a brake-out performance from the pulp of ultrarunnering, solidifying an effort matching the abilities I’ve built through years of hard work.  A performance comparable to dreaming the perfect oceanside scene then capturing it to canvas for all to practically smell its salty mist.  This year’s race didn’t do that, but it should have…  I wanted it to, bad.  To the point that conjuring its memories makes my eyes tear up.  To make writing this more complex I haven’t fully processed the race, emotionally.

But, here goes…

To set the stage the training races leading up to States were going wonderfully.

  • Montara Mountain 50k, PR by ~ 40 minutes
  • Lake Sonoma 50 mile, PR by ~ 38 minutes
  • Miwok 100k, not a PR but 18 minutes faster than last year on a MUCH harder (and longer) course.
  • Ohlone 50k, PR by ~ 34 minutes

Needless to say, I was feeling good about dropping my WS PR below 23:08 with a foundation of results built through training smarter and not harder.  I even became an RRCA certified coach to not only help others but to fold solid coaching knowledge into my own training, with confidence.

The only pre-race hick-up was getting sick.  Three weeks out from race day the family ill found its way into me and knocked me on my ass with throbbing sinuses, a bronchial jarring hack, and feeling like I had mononucleosis.  Sure it was a forced taper, but that’s not how I work; I can run 50 milers in back-to-back weekends feeling fresh.  At first I wasn’t worried but when my bacterial parasite hadn’t left 1.5 weeks out from race day I freaked.  I further freaked when I was feeling “better” and went out for a 4 mile test the body out run in Edgewood and quickly concluded my legs were weak and my lungs hurt, fresh was nowhere in sight.  I was further shamed when the next day my legs were stiff and sore – a 4 mile, easy pace run, bleh.  There was internal panic.  I didn’t let anyone know of the magnitude of my panic, but it was big.

Photo by: Glen Tachiyama

My only recourse was to rest and recover.  Remaining calm was key… may as well because I was running no matter what. I took my antibiotics like a good patient, managing its side-effects and their anti-ultra running diarrheal affects.

Layered a level below that was the weight of life, personal things that anchored me from releasing to the moment.  I’ll allude to them here but refrain from details; I don’t know who reads this blog thing.  But I will say, it’s a trying time and they (or it) played heavily into my Western States run.

Pre-race was typical, again with the wonderful support of my wife Jen, my two boys, and my sister Sona.  This time we stayed in Truckee and attended two mandatory events for a successful Western States run 1) The Truckee Thursdays Street Faire and 2) Visiting Dennis at Rosie’s in Tahoe City.  Dennis is the bartender and has been there 30+ years.  He may toy with being hard of hearing but if you even whisper the word “shot” he’s all over you — “Did someone say shots!”.

Fast forward to the race morning.  It was cold, but nothing hinting at what was ahead.  I toyed with keeping my beenie on but honestly was looking forward to running minimally.  Off I went up into the twilight darkness of an uphill ski slope in a simple outfit of a my CRC short sleeve shirt, some arm warmers, shorts (of course), hat, and a short tube of fabric to mask my face from dust.

Not much snow along the way in past year comparisons, but as I neared the first aid station near the peak, I heard a bunch of crazies cheering.  Those crazies turned out to be none other than Eric, Jose, and HG (Hallelujah Goat) bundled up like a gathering of Eskimos.  Rightfully so because the realization hit of how cold it was getting.  My “dust mask” quickly went over my ears completing my homeless person lost in the Sierras look that I was obviously going with today out of necessity of warmth.  I bid a grand thanks to my buddies with huge hearts pressing for the peak.

Am I at the top yet?  You knew that day when you crested a steep climb then instantly blasted with pelting hail and 45+ mph gusts of wind that smack through you then whipped around and cut to the bone.  What a wake up call with a grand realization that I was not prepared;  I was fabrically challenged.  I immediately roared, “Hallelujah Goat!!!” as hail stung my open lips, then I scampered down some rocky single track for tree cover.  It was on!

I thrive in adversity and love a challenge and today was another one of those days – as Pine to Palm memories flooded with rapid recall from my running history banks.  That worried me though, as that 100 mile race is the one and only I’ve never not finished because I emotionally just broke that day.  I forged on as the weather paused.  At about mile 10 my body just decided to slow, way way down.  Jen Phifier,  female winner of the 2011 HMBIM, passed me.   I bid her a great race (and she had one too) as I tried to hide my sudden and alarming energy collapse.

The trail became more exposed and the weather turned worse, with marrow chilling wind and rain.  Minutes accumulated to hours and I noticed myself developing a mild confusion.  My hands were tight with cold and the dexterity of my foot placement was way off.  The rocky trail no longer ran like a trail runners dream but more like a beer goggled obstacle challenge.  Yet, I never thought I was in that much trouble.  Until suddenly I really wanted to STOP.  I wanted to STOP really bad.  As with any ultrarunning challenge I began thinking through the WHATs and WHYs and WHATIFs.  It became VERY apparent that stopping in this weather would be a series mistake.

My only warmth was to run.

When I realized this I became quite scared.  This was transitioning from the comfort of a 100 mile race to a potential medical situation.  My entire being distilled down to move and eat – it’s all I could see in my mind, it’s all that I could calculate that would keep me warm.  Pushing towards Red Star Ridge (mile 16) I finally got some reprieve in the heaven sent warm chicken noodle soup!  I hunkered under the aid station canopy as the skies unleashed in the biggest downpour of the day.  I remarked, “I’m so glad I’m under here!”  I glanced at the precious volunteer holding my 2nd and 3rd cups of soup and she was shivering – dressed in a big down jacket with beanie and hood – and shivering uncontrollably.  I said, “Oh, you’re cold.  Are you okay?”  The comment seemed to float right through her.  Unfazed she replied, “I’m okay.  Don’t worry about me” as she continued to shovel soup at me and open a GU packet – my gloveless hands were frozen, I could no longer open the packets.

I wanted to quit.  But that moment locked into my brain long enough to realize the sacrifices made not only by this wonderful woman but everyone up and down this course.  We were all in the same weather and I was okay as long as I was moving.  Suck it up.

Ultrarunning friend Pierre welcomed me at Red Star too, happy as ever.  The last time I saw him he was being medi-vaced by helicopter out of Del Valle park unconscious during the Ohlone 50k.  I can’t stop.  Pierre is okay; I can be okay.  Everyone else here has obstacles in life yet today they pause to help us, the runners, with no expectations but a thank you and a smile — and, well, maybe a finish.  Number 282 out!

My mind was locked onto Robinson Flat, 13.7 miles away.  It’s the first place I’d see Jen and she’d have a jacket for me.  It was my singular mission to take advantage of my uptick in body heat to march down this trail to Jen.  The weather broke on and off and with the descent in altitude it warmed a few degrees.  I started to feel better and could move consistently.  Yet, as time wore on the cold pressed harder – again, I couldn’t feel my hands.  My finger tips were blanched white from the tips to be 3rd knuckle.  I had to run with my hand under my shirt to keep it warm.  They began to swell and engulf my wedding ring.

Robinson Flat (mile 29.7) was 1/2 mile away, you could hear the cheers (glorious sounds).  I darted passed a runner sitting in the rain, on a stump, vomiting.  He motioned to go on.  Finally circling through the aid station I saw Hao who immediately gave me his jacket.

Oh damn fucking hell was that the best thing I felt all day!  It was warm and dry and warm.  Long-time trail friend David La Duc complimented me on my homeless person lost in the Sierras look — “Nice outfit Franz!”

I filtered through the aid station to Jen and Hao, both appeared just worried sick about me.  Jen asked if I wanted gloves and, wow, they were like a warm piece of apple pie.  Once we got them on, though.  My hands were so swollen it was a multi-person ordeal just sliding them onto my hands, worrisome to say the least.  Jen mentioned the rain was suppose to stop in an hour.  I could last that long, easy.

Off I went, back into the woods a newly equipped runner.  Not a moment too soon because cresting out of Robinson I was hit with the worst rain of the day.  It poured while traversing the exposed mountain-side left barren by the 2008 fires.  If I didn’t have gloves and a jacket on, no hesitation, I would have been done, plodding back to the AS for an automotive escape.

Photo By: Glen Tachiyama

Although the rain passed my mood remained somber.  It was at this point in the race that I began tuning into my pace and realized, with neither excitement nor dismay, that I was locked on to the 24 hour pace.  I had been here before in 2010 and knew the canyons tend to draw out your pace: pre-canyon 24 hour pace easily morphs into post-canyon 25 hour pace.  The entire ‘thing’ was blah to me.  I just wasn’t my happy self today and I had to come to terms with it before the negative attitude spiraled.  I did cross paths with another runner that was in cloud 9, obviously on some trail medication.  He was very chipper and talkative, so I passed him.  But as I did I share some advice,

“Enjoy the highs when you’re high and look forward to them when you’re low.”

Fortunately for me the canyons were tame this year, allowing me to pick up some time on the 24 hour pace.  Climbs are relative, and the WS canyon climbs are no joke, but if you subtract the heat especially if you’ve run them in serious heat prior, they lose their sting.  It’s all about perspective.  Life is strewn with tests of perspective.

Onward I pressed driving my way to Michigan Bluff.  I came in there strong and fueling well – maybe a little unfocused.  My weight was near perfect.  My trail buddy Hao ran me in and fired off a series of questions.  Nope, no special requests.  I’m just rolling.  Still locked onto 24 hour pace – strangely like a gear in the 24 hour clock.  By then the wet and cold had passed and the day warmed some.  Foresthill was within mental comprehension at a mere 7.3 miles away.  There I’d meet with Jen and my pacer Bryan (it was his first time pacing & will be running his first 100 mile race in July).  I pulled in strong and the entire area really ignited me.  I knew the medical staff there from working it in 2009.  There was a huge crowd of great friends and my crew area from the CRC.  And, my 2 boys were there joking around and mocking me for eating baby food!  As always Jen was wonderful.  I raised some crew concern when I mentioned I was cold all day.  Rightly so, but I think I raised too much concern because they later told me they were worried sick about me being hypothermic.

Max hugging Dad at Mile 62

Picking up Bryan was the perfect dose of excitement for me.  I could tell he was ready to go and competitive about it too. Better yet, he was astutely aware of the 24 hour time that I was still toothed into like a gear.  Bryan’s chatter was great and his trail innocence was even better – while running into Cal 1 he didn’t eat or drink anything at the aid station.  I took note of it and just thought, “maybe he has everything he needs.”  Then going into Cal 2 I mentioned, “Hey Bryan, you can eat at the aid stations too.”  He responded with something like, “Really!?, nice I wasn’t sure.”  That right there made me smile for miles!  It was wonderful to hear and it brought me back to my early ultra days when every aspect of trail racing was brand new.  With that spark in my step Bryan and I went hunting down some runners.

The descent to the river was nice this year, perfect weather and time seemed to float away.  Darkness fell well before we hit sandy bottom which was a bummer because I knew from last year that’s where I turned on my head lamp, so I was behind.  No big deal, but you tune into those multi-sensory reminders during the run.  Sometimes they drive to the forefront of your thoughts – uncontrolled.

The river was amazing.  I was apprehensive crossing the snow melt sourced flow – but craving the wakeup.  Great friend Jose came storming in from the darkness with a huge amount of urgency in his voice.  “Let’s go quick, you can’t waste time in the aid stations!”  He glanced at Bryan as if to say, you should be talking to him like this too! I also heard “Franz! Franz! Franz!” out of the darkness.  I keep thinking who the hell is that, stopping mid-life vest snap to try and match the voice with a face.  Jose seemed alarmed by my easily distracted demeanor.  Finally the face emerged and it was Issac from my RRCA coaching class.  We shook hands then I calmly turn to Jose and said, “I’m cutting it close this year!”  He wrapped my jacket around my neck and hurried me to the cable strung across the river.  “Go, you don’t have time to waste!”

The river iced my beaten legs.  Normally I would have welcomed it, but my core temperature had recovered from the arctic rain running of 15 hours ago.  I wobbled across while trying to navigate boulders covered in waist high water using legs with 79 miles on them.  Graceful?  Nope not that.  I probably resembled a sedated cat thrown in a pool, especially once my chaffed areas were submersed — quick clumsy movements.

After a pause on the farside aid station, the uphill climb to Green Gate was all about warming up.  Stiff legged Bryan and I marched forward, each step getting closer to ALT.  I began feeling the pull of this aid station.  It was going to be filled with so many people I know and love.  My wife, everyone from the Coastside Running Club, friends Eric and Hao.  Days before the race I envisioned running into this aid station barking and yelling, “Hallelujah Goat!”  “Coastside!”.  Then, the woods bellowed with cheers.  Ultras have a knack for throwing a twist into your “dreams” because when I arrived I had a 9.8% desire to not talk to anyone.  I was happy, yes!  But, I think arriving at ALT converged with a wave of mental fatigue likely caused by my transition away from GUs about 2 hours earlier (You CAN’T blame me I had eaten 1 GU every 30 minutes for 16 hours!)

Kristin’s awesome sign. Hey, there’s a donkey in my cup!

I walked into ALT with a shell of a hello and muttered something about blood in my pee.  I didn’t intend it but that comment morphed into a outcry for sympathy that snowballed.  I weighed in fine, but during my prolonged stop I became dizzy which isn’t uncommon as the legs are acting to also circulate blood and when you stop there’s a drop in your blood pressure until your heart realizes it has to kick-in an extra couple of pumps.   My good friend Eric was really attentive to me and very positive calmly rationalizing my discolored urine as normal occurrence – just myoglobin, continue hydrating.  I saw a great poster a wonder lady and friend of my wife, Kristin had made giving reference to the “Wild Ass Running Crew” – that was awesome.  I then asked for some Ibuprofen because my legs were so stiff still from the river.  Eric, and rightly so, lectured me on its effects and potential kidney damage.  What I was REALLY intending to ask for was the Tylenol Jen had in my running bag (it’s better to use while running because it’s processed by the liver and that’s why I packed it).   Thoughts don’t always = words when your sleep deprived and physically spent.  Thankfully Jen knew exactly what I was talking about and retrieved them while Eric continue to warn me of the risks I was about to nottake.  (All the confusion was clarified between Eric and Jen after I left).

Eric and HG looking after me.

If I could take my arrival at ALT back I’d surely make everyone, individually, feel thanked.   Next year… right!?!?!

Off I plodded into the backend ALT darkness with pacer Hao.  I calmly checkout and waved farewell to all my wonderful friends. After moving for about 15 minutes I began to loosen up and started moving a bit. Hao very astutely monitored time and my pace. I knew it was close but enjoyed the time he was giving me to recover and get my legs (and mind) back. We caught up on my life and his not talking a lick of running and it was great – after being in constant immersion of running for 20+ hours it’s GREAT to take a break from that.

We cruised through Brown’s Bar.  I was eating well, which was wonderful.  I absolutely fell in love with these mini pickles wrapped in ham and cream cheese! I cleared their plate, nothing was left.  The BB wasn’t as festive this year without the Hash House Harriers, but still an oasis in the still darkness.

At this point the AS volunteers were giving out growingly stern warnings about the 24 pace pulling closer.  I remebered a blonde lady collapsing into a chair for a “quick rest”.  Immediately someone approached her and said you don’t have much time.  Don’t sit long.

Hao and I left for the long push to Highway 49.  The 24 hour runners were beginning to coagulate.  (At the end of races you’ll see no one for hours, but when you’re close to the end runners will bunch up in hour finishing groups – ESPECIALLY at the 24 hour mark).  Hao and I ran into Highway 49 cutting 24 hour time a little too close.  To my amazement I saw Eric and Denise just exhausted, but there to cheer me on.  My lovely wife Jen was there too.  My memories were foggy, but I did wish I could have spent more time thanking them.  But I couldn’t.  Time was too close.

Reaching No Hands Bridge was nice.  I told Hao is was a treat for me to show him what the last 2 miles of the course looked like in the dark, sub-24.  There’s a big screen up and Christmas lights everywhere.  You’d think the emotion of almost being there would overcome you, but you’re too tired to do anything but move forward.  Dehydration steals your tears and overwhelming fatigue robs you of emotion.

Hao and I ran, and we were just happy.

As always Robie Point was amazing with energy, bonfires, gongs, signs, and joyous people wrapped in blankets.  The simple phrase of “Welcome to Auburn” rattles your soul.  You can feel yourself morphing into a stronger person.  Each runner congratulates the next as we cruise on blistering painful concrete as if it were mile 1 again.  The stadium lights and muffled PA system yanks us closer.  The track came into view and I said something that shocked Hao (realize we’ve already gone through hell and back, 2x, so not much is shocking).

I turned to Hao and said, “I love that track.  If it wouldn’t be so awkward I’d drop my pants an put my balls on it!”

As we rounded the track there was Jen, Eli, and Max.  In minimalist style (or a child’s fervor) they came storming at me barefoot running around on the track at 4:52AM in the morning.  That’s right a mere 8 minutes to spare from the pinnacle sub-24 hour finish.  John Medinger announced my Grand Slam accomplishments and, thankfully, reminded me to hug my wife.

The burst of adrenaline fuels about a 30 minute celebration but soon after I’m asleep in a sleeping bag on the infield grass in a deep slumber, one that rivals a bear’s hibernation.

The true celebration comes 2-3 days after the race when your body has completed its throws of exhaustion and depletion – it’s like zombie mode.  And for me I have to transition back into normal life far too early.  There’s NOTHING like it, nothing that I’ve ever experienced.

It’s a life-time packed into a day.

I wouldn’t live any other way.

This weekend will be my 4th running of the Miwok 100k, with this year’s course being the first of a fairly dramatic course change that moves the start/finish from Rodeo Beach to Stinson Beach.  On its own Miwok is a tough race with numerous long climbs and descents.  However, in comparison to other events I’ve done like the Cascade Crest 100 and Wasatch 100 it’s not all that bad.  Miwok has ~12,000’ of climbing over 62 miles.  Wasatch has ~27,000’ of climbing over 100 miles.  Wasatch was challenging, yes, but I never felt like the course owned me.

So, why is it that Miwok owns me?

Miwok 2009 (12:01:23) — The Year of “The Great Rains”

This breaks the “owned” template in that once I gave into the downpours, Everest-like conditions, and had the proper gear the race was fun.  It morphed into part survival, part adventure, and a little bit of a race (but not much).  Funny thing is it’s my fastest Miwok time to date in some of the worst conditions I’ve ever run in.

Miwok 2010 (13:58:49) — The Year of “I’m not Dead… Yet.”

Wow, the year of everything going wrong:  Vomiting, Intense Bonking, Crying, Hitting my Head on a Boulder, Bloody Palms.  I was 200% owned that day.

Miwok 2011 (13:12:07) — The Year of “Can I Even Run?”

This was my first high mileage run off a healing stress fracture (or tibial tendonitis) with very little running in the 2.5 months before this race.  Twenty miles I dropped pace badly and, in retrospect, fell behind in my electrolyte intake.  At mile 40ish I stopped for 20 minutes initially with the intent to drop but Jen wouldn’t let me.  We did some troubleshooting and I was sent on my way and 5 miles down trail rallied back.

Rounding back to the question, why is it that Miwok owns me?:

  1. The Miwok 100k hits at time in my training cycle for Western States when I’m usually feeling run-down, slacking on long run mileage, and overall depleted mentally and physically.  Plus, I miss my family!  It’s hard to run a race in that state, especially when you show up and push yourself to expectations and not to the reality of your training cycle.
  2. The Bay Area weather in May tends to “pop” with enough of a change to catch me by surprise on hydration and electrolyte needs.
  3. My two bad Miwok years were both training runs for Western States.  It’s a well-known rule of thumb that Miwok is a litmus test for States.  Miwok time x 2 = Western States time.  Such a simple equation can cause so much trail hurt!
  4. Although 2010 and 2011 Miwoks weren’t successful in terms of races times, they were wildly successful in training toughness, problem solving, dealing with and sometimes running through physical and mental barriers.

Let’s see what this year holds!

Quick Tidbits:
— The Coastside Running Club Aid Station is at mile 42.8 (aka Rodeo Valley or Bridge View). Say HI!!!
— Live Race Tracking can be found here (I’m # 126).

This past Saturday was my long run day, a 30 miler.  Initially I had strongly considered bouncing over to CTR’s Canyon Meadow 50k in Oakland but when Friday night’s 8:00PM rolled around I simply did not feeling financially sound in spending the race day registration fee of $75.  Plus, I had just listened to a great Trail Runner Nation podcast with guest, and friend, Sunny Blende about a great new nutrition product.  I’m not one to jump on the lastest and greatest Siberian hype train but the Vitargo product sounds like a direct fit in helping my 100 miler nutritional woes.

My grand Saturday long run plan was to now forming.

  • I would save $75 in race fees by not going
  • I would run to the mall (8 mile one way trip) and hit up the GNC store for some Vitargo
  • I would then try it out as I filled in the remaining 22 miles on the Bay Trail.

Off I went beginning on Hayward’s Green Belt trail, ripe with mud from the Friday downpour – cats and dogs, yup.  I made my decent towards Mission street, where the crowd gets a little rougher.  I had never descended all the way to Mission street so I was excited to explore some new trails.  Which leads me to a slight tangent.  Wilderness trails are much different that “Urban” trails.  When running Urban trails I’m constantly scanning for dead bodies.  Really.  I’m so convinced that I’ll find a dead person that’s it’s simply a matter of time.  People don’t come to these trails to hike and enjoy nImageature; they come there to not be seen.

So in that vein I discovered an interesting side trail excursion as the trail transitioned from flowing creek crossings to defunct and abandoned water treatment channels colored with man made, spray paint spring colors.  I was drawn in by curiosity but felt in violation of some lurking pact while taking pictures.

 

ImageI snapped a few pictures then took off on my Vitargo mission.  I darted through the streets of Hayward in my trail running garb, extremely out of place yet no one seemed to care.  To my delight the farmer’s market was in progress so I stopped by and bought $2 in oranges which filled my poor Nathan backpack to the brim and to my dismay leaving little room for my soon to be possessed tub of super carbs.

West I went to the Southland Mall.  After getting offset in streets A, B, C and D I had to call my own personal Siri, Jennifer, for directions.  While talking and running a small dog charged me from the confines of his fenced yard giving Jen an auditory show of yelping and barking.  I finally made it to the mall and caught the scrutinous eye of mall security.  I popped in with muddy shoes, my wide brimmed rain hat, and a deep red ITR Lake Chabot shirt – I was clearly different from the other mall devotees.  I made it to the deserted GNC store and found the sole unsuspecting store clerk.  “Hey, I’m looking for Vitargo!”  She starred at me like I was an alien of athletic descent.  “Vit what?”  “Vitargo, it’s made by… I think G8.  It’s spelled V-i-t-a-r-g-o.”  She hunkered down over her personal computing device and popped up saying, “It’s not even in stores within 12 miles from here.  Sorry.”  And that was it.  The fun twist of my long run was fizzled by three simple letters, GNC.  So I packed up and wandered out due West for the Bay Trail passing metal recycling plants, wrecking yards, and discount tile stores.

The Bay Trail was nice, long and flat.  I was easily logging 7 to 8 min/miles even in a strong head wind.  I hit my turn around point and motored around back to the Hayward Hills.  On my way back I passed back through the Urban trail system.  As suspected the miscreant population had risen since my last passing none of which returned my warm trail hellos.  It seems they rather you’d pretend you’ve never seen them.

Every long run is a unique experience.


Image

Photo by Coastal Trail Runs

In a mix of 1/2 marathoners, marathoners, and 50kers I found myself trailing the lead pack by a surprising eye shot as we traced along the Brooks Creek Trail.  Typically I’m not a fast starter but I was enjoying feeling good on the initial North Peak climb while holding a great pace.  I knew quite a bit about the 50kers  leading the race:  Dan Rhodes is a good friend from the coast that’s a fast marathoner and successfully training for a fast 1st time 50 miler at this year’s AR50.  John Burton whom I don’t know personally but I did know he was last year’s CTR winner and course record holder.  I knew he was well capable of a sub 5 run here.  And most notably Leigh Schmitt whom I’ve met in previous Pacifica events and at the 2011 Vermont 100.  Leigh is an amazingly fast and consistent runner – and one of the nicest guys.  I mean at Vermont he extended an open invitation to swing by his Bay Area home.

With me in tow this group of runners drove me beyond my splits and the coastal views of Linda Mar State Beach on a sunny and warming “winter” day made it seem all too easy.  The out-and-back allowed for a quick time check and I was within minutes of the leaders.  This was also a great time to support other runners and good friends:  Margaret (CRC Club Member), Mariano and Nancy Warren (friends from the waay back High Sierra 3 Step), Rick Hernandez, and Janeth Silva.  I saw at least 3 runners with hats or shirts from last year’s Half Moon Bay International Marathon.  That felt really good being an organizer for the event and they were wearing it with pride.

I knew my ~ splits from last year’s PCTR run (although the course is run in a different order):

  • 1st North Peak to AS — last year 1:15  (this year 1:00)
  • 1st Hazelnut Loop — last year 0:58  (this year 0:50)
  • 2nd Hazelnut Loop — last year 1:00  (this year, run after 2n NP summit 1:00)
  • 2nd North Peak to AS — last year 1:30  (this year 1:06)
  • Short Hazelnut Loop — last year 0:46  (this year 0:41)

Amazing to me this was my first run beyond 20 miles during this year’s training, yet I felt fresh and was continuing to put time on last year’s splits.  I enjoyed the competitive feel of both chasing and being chased.

In the end I finished in 4:51:35 for 5th overall.  I received a neat 3rd place age group medal that my boys quickly confiscated.  Max immediately turned it upside down and told everyone the winged shoe looked like underpants.  Here are the overall results.

Coastal Trail Runs put on a superb event with great organization, a gold standard for course marking, and wonderfully friendly volunteers.  I’d highly recommend thier events for first-time and long-time trail runners alike.

A few new things I’ve been tweaking:

  1. Training more conservatively to start out the year.  I’ve run more 30k distances when in year’s past I’d run 50ks from the start.  The motivation for doing this is to avoid injury, like the stress fracture sustained last year that started with a January 50k in Pacifica.  However, in bartering with my inner self I allow myself to race the 30ks treating them more like a tempo workout.  Over just 2 30 races this has really increased my speed over distance in the longer runs.  I very pleased with this given my Western States goal is 21 hours.
  2. Fueling more.  During this race I was taking GU’s Roctane every 30 minutes as opposed to 40 (which last year I had determined through trial and error was my consumption limit).  What I also noticed is with a sustained increase in pace my body can handle a higher intake of calories.  Often times I found myself taking GU before my alarm went off.
  3. Running minimally.  Not the footware type but equipment-wise.  Even in scuba diving my mantra is less is better.  When underwater and you have 1 extra thing to track or get snagged on kelp, that’s one too many.  I feel like that in running also.  Over time it becomes physically cumbersome for me to carry things.  That’s in part due to my smaller frame and weaker arm and core strength.  It really just fatigues me then cascades into a mental fatigue.  At Montara Mountain I ran most of the race with no shirt which I’ve REALLY wanted to do for a long time – purely for the cooling effect.  But I’ve rarely done it due to a deep rooted, high school-like self consciousness.  It felt good to run free… and chaff in new places.
  4. Mentally, I simply believed in my endurance and ability to push beyond the hurt.  Last year’s Grand Slam taught me acutely what I can and can’t do.  My body often lies, telling me I can’t go on.  The hurt is too much.  Blah.  It lies.
  5. I’ve been taking a supplement from Wicked Fast Sports Nutrition.   I met the owner during the Vermont 100 and later exchanged a few emails with him regarding his products.  He send me a sample pack so I’m finally getting around to giving it a go.  Simply due to the name and number of pills you take I probably won’t have tried them on my own.  However, I am learning that micro nutrients are a critical part of long-term sustainable training.  I feel they’re working – especially the pre-race Energ-Ease.  I’m a difficult to convince, critical thinker but so far it’s helping.

Phantom Posts

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.