Friday, August 27, 2010

Park City Marathon - 8/21/10

I committed myself to running this race on April 4th when I recruited my sister, brother-in-law, and friend Topher to partake in it with me. I remember the date because it was Easter and we were all sitting around drinking beers when I brought it up. I hadn't yet run my second marathon at that time, that was still eight weeks away, but I already knew I was going to want run another. We decided I was going to run the full and the others were going to run the half, and we were going to make a weekend of it. That was the plan. That is until Topher realized he didn't register in time before the half sold out and had to sign up for the full instead.

Once again I wasn't going to be leaving myself a whole lot of time between marathons. It would be three months exactly, which is not a lot considering a typical marathon training schedule is four months long and I would need to allow myself time to recover. What I failed to take into account was the toll that seven months of consistent marathon training was going to have on my body. After the Coeur D'Alene marathon everything hurt. I needed to take some time off, otherwise I'd really injure myself. I ran only a handful of times in the next two months, the longest being a half marathon in mid-June. I'd been diligently using a foam roller and doing some stretches and weights which had loosened up my lower body enough where I was ready to go again. I had five weeks. I knew that was next to nothing, but I felt stronger than I had in a while.

Topher and I flew into Salt Lake City on Wednesday night. Sully's siblings, Beth and Steve, were also in town. It was a full house. On Thursday and Friday, everyone worked as usual, with Topher and I working remotely. On Thursday at a sandwich shop because there was a freak storm that knocked out power at the house for 5+ hours. Thursday night we carbo loaded at an Italian restaurant, and after we picked up our racing packets in Park City on Friday night, we all ate a light dinner for easy digestion. I had a bowl of cheerios. We all went to bed early and I set my alarm for 5am. Despite waking up numerous times paranoid that we were all sleeping through our alarms, I knew that the good nights sleep I had the two previous nights would be more then sufficient. By 5:10a, everyone was up going through their pre-race motions. I had toast with peanut butter as usual before we took the 20 minute drive from Salt Lake City to Newpark Plaza. Newpark is a new development of businesses (one of which is where my sister works), retail stores, restaurants, and condos located at Kimball Junction just outside of Park City.

We arrived at 6a and it was still fairly dark out, but it was already warm. It was going to be a hot day, but luckily 10 degrees cooler than it was going to be in Salt Lake City due to the elevation. Even though Steve wasn't running, and Beth was doing a 10k the next day, they woke up early and came to cheer us on. We stood around until the marathon started at 6:30. Kim and Sully and the rest of the half marathoners started 15 minutes later at 6:45. There were 446 people running the full marathon (261 men and 185 women), and 585 people running the half marathon (199 men and 386 women). At 6:30 on the dot the 26.2 mile journey began. Topher and I parted ways immediately. He's a faster runner than I am, and we both wanted to go at our own pace so we wished each other luck and were on our own.

We started off by running around South Snyderville Basin, and then at mile 1.5 we hit our first gentle uphill section as we ran through the Trailside residential area. At mile 3.5 we had about a mile of downhill before we crossed under the highway and ran along highway 80 on a paved path for a brief time towards the 28-mile Historic Union Pacific Rail Trail. Before I knew it, I'd already hit the six mile marker. Those first few miles are great. You still have the adrenaline going and you feel like you can run forever. It was at mile six that we turned into open grazing land and onto the packed gravel Rail Trail. This was where the challenge really began. I knew the next 10 miles were all uphill. The total elevation gain would be about 1000 ft. which actually isn't horrible. I'd done more than twice that during a trail run, but that wasn't 10 miles of heading straight up. This time there would be no sections of flat or downhill to recover, and that's what scared me. We ran the next seven miles on the trail. It started off not very steep at all, but the further I ran the steeper it got. In the beginning I really couldn't tell I was running uphill, but then as I started knocking off mile by mile, I could definitely start feeling it in my calves.

We hit the Park City area at about mile 13 which was also where the most challenging part of the course started. In a sense it was nice knowing that I'd finished seven of the ten mile uphill, but it was far from comforting knowing that this is where the real climb began. We ran along a paved trail called Poison Creek Trail from where you could see some of the ski runs used in the 2002 Olympics. I started talking to a girl around this point who was living in Southern California and was originally from Fremont of all places. Not far from where I grew up in the East Bay. Apparently she bought a new ipod and GPS watch specifically for the race and accidently locked them in her car before the start. I felt horrible for her. It doesn't seem like that big of a deal, but I know if I didn't have my GPS watch I would have been really upset. I like to know where I'm at in regards to pace and mileage too much to run without it. She was also saying that the altitude was really getting to her. At that point we were approaching 7000 ft. I'd worried about the altitude myself. I'd done a half marathon in Provo a few months before and didn't have a problem with it, but that topped out at around 4600 ft and it was a flat course. I wasn't sure how the extra 2500 ft would affect me, especially taking into account the long uphill. When she brought it up, it was the first time I remembered that I was running at altitude and luckily I didn't seem to be having a problem, nor would I.

At mile 14.5 we came out of a tunnel and crossed a street with the help of a volunteer who was directing traffic. He was a young guy who was cheering everyone on who ran by. We were entering a part of the course that was a loop up to the Snow Park Lodge at Deer Valley and back down again, so the faster runners were passing us that had already done the loop. I remember the volunteer saying to all of us running uphill, "You see that, they're all coming downhill now. It's your turn next." At that moment, I did something I've never done during a race before. Instead of thanking the volunteer like I usually do, I grunted at him. Loudly. Given the tough mile and half at a 4% grade I had ahead of me, that seemed like an eternity away and it was the last thing I wanted to hear. At mile 15.3, I was half way up it when I passed Topher who was coming down. I asked him what mile he was on and he responded 17. I was trying to gauge just how much further of uphill I had left. The next 3/4ths mile were hard. My calves were done, and all I wanted was to be running downhill. Up ahead I could see the ski runs of Deer Valley and knew the lodge was just atop the hill. When I finally made it to the top and rounded the turn to head back down I was so relieved I'd made it through the uphill portion of the course. The rest was all downhill. My legs immediately felt some relief as I started running back down. There were some spectators who were sitting out on the decks of their condos, most likely vacationers, cheering us all on as we ran by. And just like that, my outlook had shifted and become more positive.

As I came out of the loop there was an aid station that had a bunch of fruit cut up for the runners. I'd had a few GUs by that point, but I figured a bit of a banana couldn't hurt, so I grabbed one and ate as I continued to run. I've always felt weird eating while I run, it just doesn't seem natural, but I guess when you run for so many hours you do get hungry, not to mention you do need to replenish. After that there was about a mile and half period where you retrace your steps. This time I was the one going downhill. As we passed the volunteer who was directing traffic, I made sure to say thank you to him. I was feeling a bit guilty for grunting at him earlier. We then passed a tree I'd already passed on the way up that was covered with shoes hanging from it. All kinds of shoes. Sneakers, boots, snowboarding boots, and even sandals hanging off the branches. There was a plaque in front of it that explained the origins of the shoe tree. I wanted to stop and read it, but I knew I couldn't, so I just ran by it.

Prior to the race, every time I'd looked at the elevation map I'd convinced myself that once I made it to the high point of the course at mile 16, that everything would be smooth downhill sailing from there. The few trail runs I've done taught me that the downhill is were you really fly and make up time. Well, this was not a trail race, and even those are usually up and down courses that give you time to recover after uphills. I was disappointed that I wasn't feeling better on the downhills. My legs still hurt, and I knew the end of this course was not going to be quite as easy as I'd thought. I was using different muscles in my legs though so that did help to alleviate a bit of the aching. We ran by Main Street in Park City where it looked like they were having some sort of farmers market. I remembered being there the previous year, walking down Main Street, enjoying a beer, fresh food, and live music. This was definitely a different experience. Right as that thought fled my mind, I saw it. The mile 18 hill. I didn't even know this existed. You couldn't tell from the elevation chart because it was so short. But there it was. A two block long hill with a 16% grade (yes, 16%). Everyone groaned at the same time when it came into view. There were children on the hill with bags of hard candy handing them out to the runners while telling us to believe in ourselves, which I thought was cute. I grabbed a strawberry one that I used to like when I was young that had a soft center. No one could run this hill. We all had to walk it, on our tip toes at that. Someone yelled to one of the kids and asked if anyone had actually attempted to run it, and the kid responded, "only one". I powered up the hill and picked up another piece of candy that they had scattered on the ground. The sweetness tasted good.

We headed past Park City Mountain Resort and then ran along a golf course. There were some spectators outside the houses cheering us on, and even a few of the golfers yelled out words of encouragement. It was around mile 20 when I questioned how I was going to be able to finish. It was getting to the point where my legs felt like cement poles that I could barely lift. I played the, "you've only got a 10K left" game, but that wasn't even working. It was starting to get really hot and there wasn't much shade on the route. Mentally this was the hard part, but I kept passing the mile markers getting closer and closer to the end. There were three girls running ahead of me and one of them dropped her ipod on the ground. She stopped, looked down at it, looked at me, and then said "Oh no, how am I going to pick it up and then be able to stand back up?". I felt her pain. The thought of having to bend over to pick something up off the ground and then bring myself to a standing position again seemed like torture. She did manage to do it though, but it wasn't pretty.

Right before mile 21 we passed the historic McPolin Barn which is a bit of a landmark in the valley there. There was a band playing for the runners with some spectators sitting out in chairs drinking beer cheering us on. At mile 23 we ran by a park that had a bunch of boys playing a soccer game. It looked to be just a scrimmage since they weren't wearing uniforms, but half of them were wearing pennes. It was nice having something to watch for awhile. Not that there wasn't plenty of pretty scenery around to look at it, but it was nice for a short time to follow the play of the game. The park was peaceful. There was a small pond, lots of trees, grass, and a slight breeze. I'd be back there the next day cheering on Beth as she ran the 10K, this time as a spectator myself. We continued on for the majority of the rest of the race on a trail through the wetlands of Swaner Nature Preserve, often times crossing over wood plank bridges.

As we approached mile 25 we were back to Newpark Plaza, running along the border of where the condos were located. It was obvious we were getting close to the end. Not only because my muscles had all but said "fuck you", but because the amount of people I saw who were out to cheer us on had greatly increased. We ran along the path behind the condos, and soon enough came to the 26 mile sign. Only two tenths of a mile left. I was still running near the three girls. For the last few miles one kept wanting to drop back but the other two wouldn't let her. They said they wanted to all cross the finish line at the same time holding hands, and that's what they did. I picked up my pace for the last two tenths of a mile. Around every corner I swore that I would see the finish line, and then finally I did. At this point I started sprinting towards the finish (or what I thought was a sprint until I saw the actual video of my finish). All of a sudden I heard an eruption of cheers. It was my cheering squad. The largest one I've had at race to date. Kim, Sully, Beth, Steve, and of course Topher, who'd finished the marathon over 30 minutes earlier, we're all there cheering me in. I crossed the finish line and breathed a sigh of relief knowing that once I stopped running, I didn't have to start again. They placed a medal around my neck and I was done.

Beware of very loud screaming in video clip

The finishers chute had bread and fruit, and best of all chocolate milk. At that moment, not even a beer sounded as good as the ice cold chocolate milk they were giving out. I grabbed one, went to find my crew and laughed when I saw the salt caked all over Topher's face. He was covered in it. After the trail race I did in Switzerland, I got into the habit of bringing a water bottle with me and having it filled up at the aid stations around the course. At one point later in the race I made the mistake of pouring a bunch onto my hand and then wiping my face down. It did cool me down, but it so wasn't worth it because all I got was salt water gushing into my mouth. No matter how hard I tried I couldn't wipe all the salt off. Next time I know better, the wet cloths they hand out along the course are much more effective.

We sat in the grass and all shared our stories. My sister and Sully ran the entire half marathon together, crossing the finish line at exactly the same time. It was the longest Sully had run in 10 years and he did the training while trying to balance life as a resident which couldn't have been easy. My sister running nearly three months pregnant was an accomplishment all of its own. Topher ran a very respectable 4:10 marathon and I think now has a newly invigorated taste for running. I came in at 4:47:12. By far the slowest of all my marathons, but considering the 10 consecutive miles of uphill and the fact that my training was only 5 weeks, with my longest runs being one 20 miler and two half marathons, I was just happy to finish. What I was more happy about was the fact that my body responded well. Besides the aches and pains one usually gets from running 26.2 miles, my overuse injuries were doing surprisingly well. My runners knee seems to be a thing of the past, and with the help of my sports med doctor, my hip flexors which are still tight, and probably always will be, actually hurt no more than if I had just run a 5 miler, which is a HUGE improvement.

After we sat around for awhile soaking it all in, we piled into the cars and headed back to Salt Lake City. When we got home, I cracked my first celebratory beer and took a much needed shower. After a nap, it was time for a BBQ party. Fish tacos, PBR and rolling rock (yes, we went high class), some gelato, and a few games of horse balls rounded out the afternoon.

I'm not sure I learned anything new from the race, but rather it reinforced a lot of what I'd previously been thinking. I do believe that getting in long runs is key and I don't think I should stop at just one 20 miler. Ideally, I think I also want to get in at least another 22 miler so my body doesn't go into shock when I pass the 20 mile marker. I think running three marathons over the course of six and half a months is a lot, probably too much. I've promised myself that this was my last full marathon of the year and I'm going to stick by that. I'll be back to marathon running early next year, but in the meantime, this fall holds an abundance of half marathons and I plan on working on setting new personal records, both in road races and trail races. After all, I am convinced that once distance comes, speed naturally follows.

Thanks to Kim, Sully, Topher, and Beth for joining me in the races, and congrats to each of you for finishing! And of course, thanks to Steve and Beth for being our cheering squad on Saturday.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Lake Chabot Trail Half Marathon - 7/31/10

On Saturday morning I found myself driving to Lake Chabot Regional Park in Castro Valley for the Bad Bass Trail Half Marathon. I didn't know about this race until a few days before when Facebook finally proved to be good for something. See Jane Run, one of the pages "I like", mentioned it in a posting. I was planning on doing a 16 miler on Saturday anyway and figured running this might be a better option. Not only would it be easier than pavement pounding for 16 miles, but the elevation gain throughout the course would be good training for what I was going to encounter in Park City.

After leaving my car on the street, I walked through the park looking for the start. It was early, only about 7a, but already the park was filled with walkers, joggers, bikers, their baby strollers and dogs. There was a large picnic area under the trees where people were setting up for their various birthday parties and BBQs. I came to the marina and found the starting line. It was 7:15a and the hikers for the half marathon were just about to set off for their early start. There were five of them. This was obviously going to be a small event. It was hosted by Brazen Racing who puts on a number of organized trail races in the Bay Area throughout the year. I picked up my racing bib and headed over to get my race shirt. I have to say, the race shirt is definitely one of my favorites to date. Forest green v-neck with a big, angry looking bass on the front. The goody bag was pretty impressive as well with GU, Wheaties, a Monster shot, chips, eye drops, and some rice cakes. I didn't have breakfast so I ate some of the Wheaties Fuel while I waited. They're oddly good. I've had them from previous races, yet I can never find them in the grocery store.

There were three races, the half marathon which left first, followed by a 10K, and then by a 5K. We all stood around chit chatting while waiting for our start. There was a young girl, couldn't have been more then 20 who was running her first half marathon. She was saying how she played soccer as well, and one of the ladies standing nearby was reassuring her by saying, "oh, well if you play soccer this should be no problem at all". I had to interject, I couldn't help myself. I told her that like her I run and play soccer, but that unfortunately the two don't really help each other out much. The exception being that running will give you the stamina to last in games, even if it doesn't help at all with recovering from sprints. She agreed, and then we talked about the race a bit and what kind of elevation gain we were going to encounter.

Five minutes before the start, all the half marathoners were called over. There were so few of us that the race director didn't even need a PA system, which worked out well since they weren't allowed in the park. He explained to us how the race was going to work, the route we were going to take, and the signs to look for. We were each given a map to carry with us in case we got lost. Some brought it, some didn't, but after taking a wrong turn in the trail half marathon I did in Switzerland, you better believe I took mine. I learned a lot from what he was saying, things that would have actually helped me in the Switzerland race. For instance, they hang ribbons from the trees scattered along the course to let you know you're on the right track. The ribbons were different colors for each of the distances. Ours were red which matched the numbers on our bibs. When you get to a fork in the path, a line of flour is poured across the path of the direction you don't want to go. It was so simple, I had to wonder how I managed to get off course in the other race.

There were 94 of us who set off for the start of the half marathon. We ran on a path alongside the 315-acre Lake Chabot. The lake is open to fishing, and there were groups of people doing just that, hoping to catch some trout, catfish, or bass. Not even a half mile in, this cyclist came speeding around one of the corners with a scowl on his face yelling out to all of us runners "Move over! I'm not stopping, get to the side!". This guy was a serious douche waffle and I heard one of the female runners behind me aptly yell back, "thanks asshole". We got to the end of the path and then doubled back the way we came and passed the starting line again, where the racers for the other events that hadn't started yet were standing around cheering us on. Around mile 2.5 was our first of four water stops. I was carrying my own water bottle filled with cytomax, but knowing what I was about to encounter, I grabbed some plain water anyway.

Shortly after that first rest stop was where the work really began. Up until this point we'd been running alongside the lake, but it was just before mile three that we veered off and headed deeper into the park where we were hit with 600 ft of elevation gain over a mile stretch. This was steep, and went on for what seemed like an eternity. It was the hardest uphill of the race. Trail running philosophy tends to be walk the hills, which suits me just fine. Everyone runs up for as long as they can last, and then walks the rest, or alternates a run/walk if it's not too steep, and then tries to make up the time on the downhills and flats. I live in San Francisco, and I'm horrible at hills. I'm not sure how that can be, but apparently I manage to find the flattest routes in the city to run. People were passing me left and right during this portion of the race. People were even walking faster than I was. I kept reminding myself that these people are trail runners, this is what they do all the time. It was obvious, they all knew each other, the race organizers, and the volunteers, and probably do every one of these events. And after all, this was part of the reason I was here. To get better at running hills. We all have to start somewhere.

After the torture mile, I was wiped, but we had about 100 ft of descent where I was able to recover. By that point, I'd already drank most of my cytomax and we were only 5 miles in. Luckily we came up to another aid station and the volunteers were so nice and filled up my water bottle while I ate an orange slice. We ran through the park that was thankfully mostly shaded due to the large Eucalyptus trees everywhere. I found myself running alone at times following the red ribbons hanging from trees, but I soon realized that I wasn't really alone. There were just so many twists and turns I couldn't see the other runners that were just a bit in front of me. Running the flats, and slight uphills and downhills felt great. I was coasting, often times catching up to a lot of the other runners, only to be overtaken again when another hill hit. There were a lot of mountain bikers on these trails, and everyone was friendly enough, making room for us, cheering us on, or even just saying "good morning".

At rest stop number three at around mile 8.5, I was out of water again and while waiting for the volunteers to fill up my water bottle, I took stock of the food they had there for the runners. M&M's, Gummy bears, oranges, bananas, and pretzels. I usually stick to fruit on my long runs, but the gummy bears were calling my name. I grabbed a handful, stuffed them in my mouth, and set off again. There were a few girls ahead of me that I set out to catch. I'd lost some time stopping to get my water bottle filled, but that was a necessity, and soon enough I found myself overtaking them. I'm not saying this is some big feat, but when you run, sometimes you need to set goals for yourself to keep you occupied and motivated. This was a tactic I used often.

Sweat was literally pouring down my face. It seemed that around every corner there was yet another hill. At one point I could see out the corner of my eye something black on my nose. Thinking it was dirt, I went to wipe it away. It was not dirt. It was a bug that had apparently drowned in my sweat that was pooling on my nose. It couldn't have been a nice way to go. The course was easy to follow and I never feared getting lost. The mile markers however where not all that accurate. Not that I can blame them, it's probably not that easy to mark a trail half marathon. At one point, the mile marker was a whole seven tenths of a mile ahead of what it actually was. When I noticed the discrepancy of what my GPS watch said versus what the mile marker reported, I was really hoping that my watch had lost the signal temporarily due to the tree coverage and was the one that was wrong. Unfortunately in this case, my watch was right. At this point though, I was close to the end which is always uplifting. We took one last long downhill, only to realize that we were running to the last aid stop at the bottom, to then turn around and return all the way back up. This last hill almost killed me, but I made it up with the rest of the runners.

The last two miles were easy as far as course goes. It was mostly flat and we ran back along the lake again. I was ready to be done at this point. I rounded the corner that led to the grassy area where the finish line was. The half marathoners were all trickling in with big gaps between each other. I came in about half way through the pack and people were standing around cheering each other on. As I crossed the finish line, there were two little kids, a boy and a girl, fighting over which one was going to give me my finishers medal. The little girl won. I grabbed it and then stood for a few minutes just catching my breath, knowing that if I sat I wasn't getting back up. I did a few lazy stretches for my hip flexors since they were a bit tight and then headed over to the picnic tables were all the post-race festivities were going on. They had a whole bunch of food out for the runners. Every fruit you can imagine, including some I didn't recognize, bear claws, bagels and peanut butter, and even It's-It's bars. I grabbed some muscle milk, a banana, and a half a bear claw and went to the grass and collapsed into a heap of mush in the sun. Without a doubt, trail half marathons take it out of you far more then road half marathons. I forced myself to do a more thorough stretch, and downed the banana cream muscle milk.

I then went and registered for a free session with a chiropractic group from Hayward that had a tent there. As I waited for my turn, I noticed a big dog, a Rhodesian ridgeback, wearing a finisher's medal around his neck. I asked his owner if he'd just run the entire half marathon, and sure enough he had. That did nothing for my want of having my own dog to run with. In 10 minutes, it was my turn and the girl really worked my calves. They were using the A.R.T technique, something I'd just heard about and coincidentally had scheduled an appointment on that Monday for with a chiropractor in Noe Valley. It hurt like hell, but my calves went from being so tight to almost feeling like I hadn't even run on them. In fact, I was even able to run an 8 miler the next day. It was amazing, and I was so excited for my appointment that Monday to see what could be done about my hip flexors and runner's knee problems.

It was about 11:30a when I packed up my belongings and headed back to the city for a much needed a nap. I was glad I decided to do another trail race. Despite the 1300 ft. elevation gain across the course, I loved it. Running trails is so peaceful and really helps to break up the monotony of road running. I finished in 2:21:00 which was about 5 minutes faster then my first trail half marathon. So as far as trail runs go, that was a PR for me. Granted it had about 1000 ft less of elevation gain, but I'm still counting it as a PR. Brazen Racing put on a great race. I really liked the smallness of it, it was a comfortable and had really cozy small town feeling. Quite the contrast to the San Francisco Marathon the weekend before. And despite it being a small event, it didn't lack in any of the big race goodies. The t-shirt, food, and freebies were great, and you didn't have to stand in any lines. The best part was that they had race photographers along the course who posted the photos to a picasa album for everyone to download for free. I will no doubt be doing another Brazen race and I will conquer these hills.