Friday, October 31, 2014

To the House 135 (DNF) - September 27, 2014

Summary
Combining the Pine to Palm 100 and the To the House 135 was by far the most ambitious and challenging running endeavor I have attempted. I had a great day at Pine to Palm (P2P), but trying to do it again two weeks later was really tough. Mentally, I was excited and motived for this run, but physically, I simply wasn't recovered or prepared. In the days after P2P, I was battling some hip and quad issues on my left side. Rather foolishly, I ran too much in-between as I thought I felt good enough to run. By mile 30, I was hurting and feeling all the miles. My quads were destroyed from flat, endless farm roads. However, I managed to grind through another 70 miles before dropping just past the 100 mile mark. At this point, it was clear it was going to be very difficult for me to make the 36 hour cutoff. With that in mind and after some other unforeseen circumstances, I was done. Of course, I am disappointed to have not finished, but I am still proud to have completed the 100 mile distance twice in two weeks. However, this run was never about myself, and instead was about raising awareness and donations for the Ronald McDonald Houses of the Central Valley. In fact, the goal was to run from the house in Bakersfield to the one in Madera. Regardless of my DNF, over $8,000 was raised, and therefore, it can only be considered a success. Here is the strava file.

Race Report
About 10-months ago, my friend David invited me to join him and few friends to run from Bakersfield to Madera in order to raise donation for the Ronald McDonald Houses. David had done this last year, however, it was more of a run among friends. This year the event has grown into an official event with Elemental Running race directing. There were eight relay teams and five solo runners. Unfortunately, I had trouble finding a crew, which was necessary since there were no aid stations. With that said, David and I decided to run together and share the same crew vehicles consisting of David's family.

At 5:00AM we started from the Bakersfield RMH and made our way through the city streets to the central valley farms. Our crew vehicle would simply drive five miles ahead at a time, where we could refill our bottles and stay on top of our nutrition. It was dark when we started, and just as we got out of the city, the sun started rise. It was a nice sunrise rising over the Sierra foothills to the east.

Shortly after starting, my hip and quad were bothering me, but it wasn't getting worse so I remained optimistic. We ran the vast majority of the first 20 or 30 miles. And since it had been a while since I had seen David, we had plenty to talk about. He had just run Headlands 100 two weeks ago, so we figured we would be in similar condition to run together. It was also great to meet the other solo runners include Nate Moore, Ed Ettinghousen and Brian Recore. Brian and Nate were pushing strollers with all of the gear attempting a self-supported run, while Ed is trying to break the record for the most 100 milers in one year. I think this was 20-something, unbelievable. I have no words for that, especially after attempting two 100s in two weeks myself.

Early miles with Rudy, a relay runner. Photo Lori Thull
Especially since David and I had raced two weeks ago, we ran too much in the beginning. It was clear by mile 30, my body was breaking down. My quads were shot from all the flat, road miles. My body is more conditioned for mountain running, not necessarily flat roads. It is a different workout, and I was finding this out the hard way. By Mile 40, David and I were incorporating more walking breaks, but we did a good job of keeping each other honest and moving forward.

There was hardly any scenery, just endless farm roads as far as the eye could see. We ran through fields of orange and almond trees and vineyards. We grabbed some grapes off the vine, rinsed them and ate them. This was such a nice treat, especially when I ran low on water. The weather was quite nice, and the 80 degree temperatures were rather cool for the area this time of year. There wasn't a cloud in the sky, so I took advantage of the shade offered by the orange and almond trees to stay cool. This trick makes a huge difference.

The sun started to set around mile 60, and we actually sat for an extended period of time to have somewhat of a dinner. Throughout the day, I was consuming real food with an occasional gel. Since my effort was fairly low, I wasn't afraid to eat real food, and regularly at a tortilla with peanut butter. I continued eating a couple tortillas with peanut butter and a Dr. Pepper, which surprisingly proved to be a great treat.

After about 15 minutes we carried on, running on and off into the night. My body was destroyed, especially my quads, and I was struggling to hold 10 minute pace while running. It is amazing how hard 10 minute pace can feel sometimes.

Peanut butter and tortillas! Photo: Lori Thull
By now, it was dark and we approached the rather interesting town of Tulare. Unfortunately, David and I got mixed up, and ended up missing a turn, which was made obvious by a construction site closing off the road. Since the absolute last thing we wanted to do was backtrack, we went forward on a dirt road. Soon a security officer approached us in a car. He ask what we were doing out here, and we told him "running to Madera!" He originally thought we were looking for or selling drugs, but our story seemed likely as we were wearing running clothes. We needed to get back on the main road, but the security officer said the only way was to turn around and backtrack for a few miles. This hit hard and was a huge mental blow. However after asking if there was any other way around, he said we could cut through the construction site through a hole in the fence and hop the fence on the other side. Hoping a fence with 75 miles on your legs sounds awful, but better than backtracking! Fortunately, we were able to squeeze through a gap without climbing over to get back on the main road.

Lots of water! Photo: Lori Thull
We continued forward running through the town. We ran through a huge Mexican/Spanish party blasting Mariachi music, which was pretty cool and provided some motivation, before returning to endless farm roads as we left Tulare.

Eventually, we made it to mile 90. By now, my feet were absolutely killing me. I had a number of blisters on my toes. For the first time in a 100 miler, I took my shoes off and popped some nasty blisters. It hurt, but eventually started to feel better. At the same time, David had to make some calls to make sure the finish line was setup as the relay teams were getting close! I unknowingly fell asleep for about 20 minutes.

Waking up only to realize I still had 50 miles to go was a truly awful thought. I could barely get out of the chair. My body had stiffened up so badly I could barely stand let alone walk. I have never been so stiff in my life, especially my quads. However, they slowly loosened up as we gingerly walked forward very slowly. David got us into a rhythm of running for 10 - 15 seconds, followed by a short walk break. This really helped loosen my quads. However, I was struggling to hold a 12 minute pace running. It was painfully slow, both physically and mentally.

Now, we could see the sun rising and we got word Nate was dropping out. Apparently he was only a few minutes ahead. We just missed him as his wife came to pick him up. He was constantly battling flat stroller tires from goathead thorns. Very ambitious task to go self supported, and it was very inspiring to see him out there pushing a stroller! In the beginning, I think he had 5 gallons of water, which is 40lbs! Not to mention everything else. I would love to try it self supported next year!

At this point we had just passed mile 100, but were getting word rain and storms were inevitable. David was excited to run in rain, however, I was drastically less so. I was already cold and knew rain would bring an end to my day.

Minutes later, the skies let loose. I found myself hanging out under cover to stay warm and dry hoping the storm would pass. David went forward. Unexpectedly, the storm blew over in 10 - 15 minutes. After the little break, I found some motivation and was able to run slowly hoping to catch David. As I approached our crew car, I was hoping to hear David was just a couple minutes ahead, however, I heard "we can't find David." Just before the bad news, I realized I had to maintain 15 minute pace to make the 36 hour cutoff, and since I was running at 12 minute pace, this would be pretty tough and not allow much walking.

After hearing David had not been seen for over an hour, I quickly made the decision to drop. His family was crewing for me, and it made no sense for them to take care of me while David was missing. We needed to focus all of effort on finding David. Fact is, 100 miles is dangerous and anything can happen to anyone.

After getting the police involved and continuously driving all over the place, we found him two hours after I dropped. Thankfully, he was completely fine and in good spirits. My day was already over, but David was planning to continue.

After a quick nap in my truck, I started driving back home since I had to be at school/work Monday. Unfortunately, I head later David had to drop as well.

Huge thanks to David's family for crewing for me. They stayed up all night with us, encouraged us to keep moving and even bought me some more tortillas. I would not have made it out of Bakersfield without them.

Reflections 
A DNF is always hard to accept. However, I think it is helpful to think of it as finding your limit that day. I think a majority of ultra runners do these crazy long races to find their limit, and therefore, DNF means you did. Of course, your limit for a given day or race depends on a number of things. Maybe you fell during the race, your stomach was not accepting any calories or a number of other obstacles, or in my case, you ran a 100 miles two weeks prior and didn't have enough time to recover. So instead of looking at a DNF as a failure, look at it as successfully finding your mentor or physical limit.

Finally, the 36 hour cutoff is tough, and in my opinion, it should definitely be increased to accommodate a larger number of solo runners. There is no doubt in my mind, I could run this in under 30 hours on fresh legs, but on tired legs, the cutoff was very challenging.

I would love to come back next year! I loved the idea, and it is for a great cause!

Lessons Learned
1. Hokas - Hokas are too narrow for my feet in long ultras. I had horrible blister between my toes due to the narrow toe box. I thought this was just normal for long ultras, but after running Pine to Palm in the Montrail Fluid Flex with no issues, I realized it could be prevented. Unless Hoka widens the toe box, I doubt I will wear them for longer races, however, I still feel they are a great tool for high mileage weeks to lessen the impact.

2. Real Food - When the effort level is lower, more real food can be consumed. For higher efforts, real food doesn't work as well for me since my stomach and muscles are battling for the same blood. In this case, easily digestible gels or electrolyte drinks work best for me.

3. Back to back 100s - Basically, I ran way to much in the two weeks between Pine to Palm and this race. Instead, I shouldn't have run at all, but that is mentally hard for me...

4. Respect the Distance - Going into the race, I honestly didn't think 135 would be much different than 100. Don't be fooled, the difference is an ultra. I quickly realized during the run how mile 65 feels when you have 35 to go, and now, this would be mile 100. Always respect the distance.

Finally, I ran R2R2R in the Grand Canyon a few weeks ago, so stay tuned for a quick report and some awesome photos!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Pine to Palm 100 - September 13, 2014

Summary
By far and away, Pine to Palm (P2P) 2014 was my best 100 miler. Although I had no epics highs of feeling really great, I, more importantly, had no epic lows as in previous hundreds. In the past, I had spent at least 30 - 60 minutes at single aid station due to an epic low and feeling miserable from going too hard. I managed a 37 minute PR at the distance on by far the most difficult course of my four finishes. I finished in 21:17:30, which was good enough for 7th place. I tied with my buddy Dom, who I ran the majority of the last 50 miles with. Throughout the day, we battled heat, long climbs and descents, smoke and dusty roads.

I feel like I am slowly, but surely, learning more about the distance and easing into the 100 mile race mentality. I know I am capable of a faster time, but by going faster and pushing harder, you risk blowing up, which could cost many hours and even a finish. There is so much that goes into a successful hundred from nutrition and gear to race strategy and even luck. Completing the distance is monumental, but racing it is totally different and much harder. I don't want to sound arrogant or cocky after a 7th place finish, as this is not the case at all, and I think anyone who knows me would agree. Eventually, I will race one of these things, but for P2P 2014, I was solely focused on executing my race and managing my effort without any epic lows. Doing so successfully would be one step closer to racing a 100 miles. However, I did have time goals and splits, but I had no intentions of trying to keep pace with anyone else. My A+ goal was 20 hours, while my A goal was 22 hours. Here is the strava file for those interested.

I am incredibly excited for my first Hardrock qualifier (although P2P is being phased out hereon after). And since I already have Western States qualifier, I am hoping to get lucky in one of the December lotteries.

Race Report 
My 2014 Pine to Palm adventure started the Friday before the race. My friend Nate Dunn, who was also running, and I drove up to Williams, OR from the Bay Area. The drive was super easy, and it was cool driving by Mt. Shasta knowing I had been at the summit a few weeks ago. Eventually, we rolled into Ashland, OR. We had a quick lunch and stopped at Rogue Valley Runners before we headed West to the start in Williams.

Williams is a super small town consisting of a gas station, general store and thats about it. I love these small, remote towns in the mountains. It reminded me a lot of Vermont. Friday evening we had a pasta dinner and listened to the race briefing. I saw numerous Bay Area friends who were also running, crewing or pacing. Then, we camped with many other runners just a few miles from the start.

After a good night sleep in the bed of my truck and some last minute gear preparations, I was ready for my journey from Williams to the finish in Ashland. At 6:00am sharp, we were off.

I felt pretty good at the start, and I was anxious to run. However, I was hoping to use a bathroom beforehand, but unfortunately, they were far down the road and I didn't have time. So I accepted the fact it would only be a matter of time before I ducked off the trail to take care of business. I totally forgot about my pre-race laxative, which had worked well for San Diego and Boston. Oh well.

It was dark and cool when we started up a long climb along the road. A few minutes after the start, I talked with my buddy Rudy Rutemiller, Chris Wehan and Dom Andreotti. We were all anxious and excited for an epic day in the mountains, and knowing they are all fast runners I knew I would be seeing them throughout the day.

The first 10 miles is a long, 4,500' climb up Grayback Mountain at 6,500' above sea level. The climb wasn't steep or technical, but long and this would soon become the story of the day. After a few miles, we turned off the road on to some single track as the sun was starting to rise. Off to the east was a glorious sunrise over the mountains. Heading up Grayback, we ran through a dense pine forest with a fair amount of fallen trees due the severe drought. It was also apparent some of the smoke from nearby forest fires would be a factor throughout the day. Summiting Grayback was pretty epic. The views were incredible, especially with the plumes of smoke off in the distance. The smokey, hazy air gave a unique view as the sunlight was reddish-orange color.

After the 10 mile climb was a long, 18 mile descent. The first 5 miles were on some glorious, steep, technical single track, which ended at the first major aid station at mile 15. I only stayed for enough time to quickly fill my bottles. The remaining 13 miles was a long, gradual, gravel downhill to the Seattle Bar aid station at mile 28. This part was tough because I felt I needed to run the entire downhill, and an 18 mile downhill run is really tough on the body. I felt OK afterwards, but was looking forward to start climbing again. In hindsight, I was slightly unprepared for the long climbs and descents. I am used the Marin Country trails, which are relentless up and down, but are only a couple miles long. So as the day went on, there were long periods of running downhill and long periods of hiking uphill.

My first dropbag was waiting for me at Seattle Bar. Since I had no crew or pacers, I heavily relied on dropbags. I replenished my pockets with my favorite gels and little baggies of the Tailwind. Although, it looked very suspicious, I filled small ziploc bags with a single serving of the Tailwind Electrolyte drink. The baggies were about the size of a gel, which worked out perfectly to carry in my pockets.

Next up was the notorious climb up Stein Butte. The P2P veterans all warned us of this nasty climb, mostly because it would be in the midday heat. However, the smoke filled air help shield us from direct sun exposure. Although it wasn't ideal to be breathing in smoke, it helped prevent the 95+ temperatures that were predicted, and instead, I suspect it didn't even hit 90. That said, the climb up Stein Butte wasn't bad as I ran the flatter portions and hiked the uphills.

I was running with the eventual female winner, who had a fantastic day. We were hiking the climbs together, when all of a sudden she started running, and I never saw here again... I couldn't believe it, but she held it together! Congrats!

Atop Stein Butte was an aid station, where I filled my bandana with ice. Although it was nowhere near as hot as San Diego, it felt great to have ice water trickle down my back and chest. Without wasting too much time, I moved on to a 8 - 10 mile descent to Squaw Lake. I don't remember much about this part other than running the vast majority of it.

Soon, I pulled in the Squaw Lake aid station, and I had to run a 2 mile loop around the lake. I ditched one of my bottles since I would be returning the same aid station shortly. This was a nice secluded lake nestled in the mountains. There were a few people on paddle boats and swimming, along with many campsites. I returned to the same aid station, except this time it was mile 42. I filled my bottles and bandana before embarking on a short descent before another long climb to Squaw Peak at mile 50.

Maybe it was all the smoke, but I was really thirsty. I only carried two bottles, but drank an entire bottle in short order after Squaw Lake. As I started the long climb to the Hanley Gap aid station, just below Squaw Peak, I looked at my note sheet. I was comforted by the fact there was a water-only station at mile 45. However, mile 45 came and was long gone, according to my watch. I started to panic a bit because I was nearly out of water with a 4+ mile climb to the next aid station in the midday heat. This is not a good situation, and it can be very hard to recover from an extended period without water (Rio del Lago). I started thinking I had unknowingly missed the water station because they were unmanned and only had a few jugs of water. I thought I was screwed, and began devising a way to ration my water. I remember thinking I could take a very small sip every half mile, or 8 minutes at my current uphill pace.

After 20 minutes of wondering if my race was over and if I could recover from being dehydrated, a silver pickup truck drove up the fire road behind me. It was Hal Koerner's dad brining up the water for aid station, and within 10 minutes, I was refilling my bottles. Unfortunately, the advertised mileage can be quite far off at P2P, but I didn't care and was just happy to refill my bottles.

Soon after, I made it to Hanley Gap, where we had to head up one mile to Squaw Peak and grab a flag, which signified a successful summit, and return it to the aid station. The view at the summit was really nice as one could see pine trees and smoke in every direction. I didn't stay for long, and quickly ran back down to my dropbag at the aid station.

After resupplying my pockets with plenty of gels and baggies of Tailwind, my buddy Dom came flying down from Squaw Peak. He quickly ate some of the aid station food and we headed off together working our way up to Dutchman Peak at mile 66 and the high point of the course. Although there were a couple downhills this was a long 16 mile climb. We hiked the vast majority of it and talked about how our day was going. We committed on how this was by far the most difficult 100 we had run before and how unprepared we were for the long climbs and descents.

As the sun was setting we could hear the music blasting atop Dutchman. At the peak, I had another dropbag waiting for me so I could resupply my stock of gels and Tailwind. The view was pretty epic at the summit, especially as the sun was setting to the west. Another runner caught us and left before us with his pacer. Dom left a few minutes earlier than I to pick up his pacer at the parking lot down the road. I eventually caught up and the three of us ran together moving along the Pacific Crest Trail towards the Long John aid station at mile 74. At this point, we knew we were top 10, but had no idea of our exact place.

Unfortunately, this was one of the few sections of single track on the course, which was glorious. It was mostly flat or downhill and with the help of Dom's pacer, Trace, we ran the vast majority of it. By now it was dark, and we had turned on our headlamps. I love running through the night. We keep telling ourselves only one more climb, however this made it sound a lot easier than it was.

Eventually after another long descent we made it to the bottom and the Wagner Butte aid station at mile 80. From here we had a tough 8 mile climb to Wagner Butte followed by a long 12 mile descent to the finish. The climb was steep, never ending and fairly technical. After a few miles, we had to do a two mile out and back up to Wagner Butte to grab yet another flag. At this point, we were hiking every step so it took awhile. Finally just shy of the summit, we were forced to do some technical scrambling to reach top and grab the flag.

I was hiking faster than Dom, but he was inclined to run more than I wanted to. My core was destroyed so I preferred a fast power hike to a run. That said, we bounced back and forth for a little while, and I pulled ahead on the descent down to the mile 90 aid station, Road 2060, where I had my last dropbag. This steep, technical descent was brutal at times. I anticipated the aid station around every corner, but I was greeted to more dark trails and no aid station.

I finally pulled into the aid station, and I got rid of my extra bottle and heart rate monitor, while grabbing a few gels and some water for the final 10 miles. I must have been a couple minutes ahead of Dom at this point since I left the aid station with no sight of him behind me.

From hear to Ashland was a more gentle downhill on gravel roads. Natured finally called, and I will just leave it at that. I was cautious not to push too hard as I had San Diego in the back of my mind. After all 10 miles is still pretty far and anything can happen. Therefore, I did a combination of power hiking and running. Eventually Dom caught back up, but again, what was left of our running abilities didn't match. We did our best to keep up with each other.

Finish! Photo Credit: Dominick Andreotti
Eventually we pulled into the final water-only station at mile 96. I filled my bottle while Dom didn't even stop. From here on out, I sucked it up and we ran the majority of the final 4 miles. A mile from the finish we pulled onto some paved roads to make our way to Lithia Park in downtown Ashland. The roads were steep and painful, but the thought of the finish being so close made it easy to run.

We decided it would be fitting to finish together since we spent so much time together on the trail. We both finished with smiles on our faces with only Dom's mom and a race organizer to greet us. And, that was it, good enough for 7th place overall.

Overall, I loved Pine to Palm. It is a small local race, where the local community comes out to support the runners, which was really nice. Some people complained about all the gravel roads, but I couldn't care less. I was running new trails and was excited to see what was around every corner. This was my first point-to-point 100, which was pretty cool too.

Congrats Dom, it was a pleasure to run with you!!! Thanks to Trace for keeping us honest out there! Also congrats to Rudy for finished about 15 minutes behind us! Thanks to all the volunteers and Hal Koerner for putting on a great race!!

Reflections
Taking off my shoes!! Photo Credit: Dominick Andreotti
Right now in 100 mile races, I am lacking a killer instinct, that ability to risk it all to compete or race the distance. However, since I am still new to and learning about the 100 mile distance, this is a good thing!! I noticed there were times late at P2P when I knowingly dialed things back to prevent any possible blow up. For example, at mile 66 on Dutchman Peak, there were a couple runners just ahead of me, within a couple minutes, but I decided to hold back even knowing we were top 10. After all, 34 miles is still far, especially with 66 miles already on your legs, and a lot can go wrong. Even at mile 90 (see San Diego), it is still really important to stay within yourself. One small mistake managing your effort, gear or nutrition can be the difference between an epic day and not finishing. However, now that I have four finishes, I am feeling a lot more comfortable with it. In fact, each race has felt easier and been faster than the previous one. I am learning how I need to fuel and hydrate my body to prevent nutrition related problems, and also learning a comfortable 100 mile effort.

I think I am now in a position to start thinking about racing 100 miles. In hindsight, it would be interesting to know what would have happened had I tried to keep up at Dutchman. Of course, it is still of upmost priority to run your own race. However, now that I have a established nutrition and gear strategies, I can experiment with pushing harder. In this way, I am only changing one variable at a time. In the past, the problem was that I thought I could race the distance with limited experience on fueling and hydrating for the distance. Obviously, there are just too many variables, and the odds of everything falling in line, is slim, which I learned the hard way (Rio del Lago).

I also realized when you stay within your comfort zone, which I did, the race may not have much sedimental value. I never really had to push through some epic low, which in the past, have been the most memorable experiences. So it will be interesting to see what happens as I push harder in future races, and I think these races will have more meaning attached to them. Of course, I still had a blast out there, and there is nothing else I would have rather been doing! Sometimes it is not always about soul searching, contemplating the meaning of life or competing, and instead, just have fun out there!

I am not sure of my next 100, a lot will depend on the December lotteries, but I am anxious to start thinking about racing and pushing harder.

Lessons Learned and Tips (no particular order)
1. Take care of issues immediately - May sound obvious, but any issue that comes up, take care of it immediately, which may also require carrying some extras. During P2P, I experienced some chaffing early on, however, it was not a major issue because I carried a small tube of AquaPhor at all times. For me, I will always carry a small baggy with Tums, AquaPhor and lip balm. The bottom line is don't suffer anymore than you have to and take care of anything that comes up immediately. Also, little things can be easily forgotten at an aid station only to comeback a half mile out.

2. Core - After all the long descents, my core muscles were pretty sore, which made the final 12 mile descent pretty tough. Downhills can be really taxing on your core muscles and I was feeling that long 18 mile descent from mile 10 to 28.  I need to start doing more core exercises...

3. Race Day Nutrition and Dropbags - Everyone has their favorite gels and electrolyte drinks, and unfortunately races don't always supply the brand or flavors you want. There is no sense in risking the aid stations will have what you want when you want it. For example, you may not like certain flavors or want caffeinated gels early on. So, you have to bring your own. I packed my drop bags with exactly what I wanted, which included little single-serving baggies of Tailwind. Sure it may look suspicious scooping white powder into little bags, but it made a huge difference, especially if you don't have a crew.

Specific Tips for the Pine to Palm 100
1. Long climbs and long descents - P2P starts with a long 10 miles and 18 mile descent. If you can be prepared and train on similar long gradual climbs. Make sure you have some legs left for the final 12 mile descent to the finish!!!

2. Gravel roads - P2P has a lot of gravel roads, which can be quite dusty during the day with traffic. There might not be a lot you can do about it, but be aware of it.  

Gear
Gear
Everything here performed flawlessly, and I wouldn't have changed a thing. Clearly, by the array of brands, it should be obvious I am not affiliated with or sponsored by any of them.

Shoes: Montrail Fluid Flex II with Dirty Girl Gaiters
Socks: Injini mid-weight, mini-crew socks
Shorts: North Face Long Haul Shorts
Top: Pearl Izumi M's Infinity In-R-Cool sleeveless
Headwear: Patagonia Duckbill Cap
Bottles: Ultimate Direction 20oz Handheld (two)

Thanks for reading!!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Becoming one with the long run - Final Push for Pine to Palm

Myself atop Mt. Shasta 14,179'
In my last post, I said the next three weeks would be my final push for Pine to Palm (P2P) coming up September 13. Over those 21 days, I ran more than ever before and accumulated 372 miles with 46,000' of gain in 60 hours. At times, I felt it was easier than expected, while at other times, I toughed out some really rough miles. As I explain my logic behind the high volume, bear in mind I am completely self-coached with no formal athletic training. I am simply reporting my logic and experience based on the information I have gathered.

Generally, I tried to stay around 100 mile race effort the whole time, and my goals of this training block were two fold. First, I wanted to increase my endurance and time on feet so my body could better handle long, sustained efforts. Except for the steep climbs, I want to feel like I can run the whole P2P course by always being able to fall back on a slow, but running pace. Instead of a run/walk strategy on the flats and gradual climbs late in the race, as at San Diego, I want to be able to run. Saving up to five minutes per mile would be huge late in the race. Of course, this assumes my nutrition and hydration are on target come race day.

Second and probably more important, I wanted to train my mind. I usually only go to those deep, dark places in races. I wanted to go there in training to better cope with the mental demons and build confidence. This idea also ties into my first point by being comfortable being uncomfortable. The more accustom to the discomfort I am, the better I can cope with it and maintain more running. Mentally, I want to get as comfortable as possible with a slow jog, even if there is more discomfort.

Big Training Weeks Explained
The first week, I shot for 100 miles and 20,000' in gain, which on average, would match the P2P course. The second week, I flew to Houston, TX for my brothers graduation, but that did not hold me back. Although Houston is very flat, I had to battle the high heat and humidity. My target for this week, was 120 miles. The last week was just about getting in as many miles as possible with moderate elevation gain, and I was hoping for 20 miles per day or 140 miles total. Over these three weeks, I also wanted to avoid 25+ mile runs. I feel like I can recover pretty quickly from 20 miles. Instead of a couple 30 mile days, which could take a few days to recover from, I wanted more balance, so "shorter" runs day after day.

During the first week, I climbed Mt. Shasta (14,179') with my buddy Levi (check out his blog), who made an awesome video of our climb. We went up the Clear Creek route for about 7,900' in less than six miles and a lot of scree. Compared to my Mt. Whitney (14,508') climb a few weeks ago, this was much more difficult. From the Whitney Portal, it was about 6,000' in 11 miles on nice trails. Here are the strava files: Mt. Whitney, Mt. Shasta. Honestly, I would be hesitant to recommend or do this route again this time of year. Since there was no snow, dealing with all the scree was very annoying at times, especially since it was so steep. However, the views definitely made up for it! Check out the pictures at the bottom too!!

Sunrise on Mt. Tam.
Training Week 8/4 - 8/10
101.0 miles with 21,800' gain in 17:46
Because I knew I was headed to Houston next week, I wanted to get in as much climbing as possible. I started off by heading up Mt. Tam Monday morning, which was a great treat to climb above the clouds during the sunrise. For the rest of the weekdays, I commuted to and from Berkeley aiming for 2,000' of gain each day. The Berkeley Hills offer relentless hills up and down the windy roads. Saturday, I headed up Mt. Shasta and Sunday, I went up to Vollmer Peak in Tilden. Overall, my quads were feeling all the climbing so I was actually looking forward to giving them a break in Houston. Although I never thought about it at the time, I think switching things up a bit in the middle of this buildup helped me stay motivated and avoid the same workout everyday.

Training Week 8/11 - 8/17
120.5 miles with 5,000' gain in 17:48
On Wednesday, I flew to Houston, so on Monday and Tuesday, I tried to get in some last minute climbing. Overall my goal was to run a handful of 20 mile runs, except for Friday, since I only had time for a quick five miles just before my brother's graduation. On Thursday and Saturday, I went out for 20 miles along the river from downtown Houston to some trails in Memorial Park. Since it was so hot and humid, I frequently ran into gas stations to refill my handheld bottle. This is a great strategy in an urban environment when you don't want to carry a bunch of water or run a bunch of loops. It was hot and humid, but I was determined to tough it out and get in the distance. The key is to adjust your effort and stay hydrated. By Sunday, I was at 105 miles, so I just went out for 15 miles to hit my goal. I had considered running another 20, but thought it would be better to save the energy for next week and spend more time with my family.

Training Week 8/18 - 8/24
150.6 miles with 19,500' gain in 25:12
This week was epic as I ran 20 miles each weekday and 25 miles both Saturday and Sunday. Monday was my last run in Houston in which I ran a similar route along the river to Memorial Park. The heat and humidity was wearing on me, and I was excited to run some hills in cooler temperatures. When I got back Tuesday, I immediately ran up Vollmer Peak. Wednesday and Thursday, I stuck to some easy climbs in the Berkeley Hills. These were the toughest days since I was feeling the high volume and knew there was still a lot more to come. Friday and throughout the weekend, I mentally felt a lot better since I could see the light at the end of the tunnel. Saturday, I joined the SFRC for 15 miles and extended it to 25 miles with a buddy Josh. On Sunday, I ran 25 miles with Dario, and we started with a Double Dipsea, including a beautiful out and back on Steep Ravine. I concluded the epic training block the same way it started, up and down Mt. Tam, which was a fitting end. By far my biggest training week ever, and I was very surprised to see how well my body handled it all. I didn't feel overly beat up and my legs felt pretty good all things considered, but mentally, I was ready for a break.

Taper Plans
I don't think I have ever really nailed a great taper. For my past 100 milers, I think they have been too short, which usually means I start the race with some lingering fatigue. For short races and lower volume training, I have had decent results with a two week taper. For San Diego, I did a two week taper, but that did not seem to be enough after moderately high training volume. Since my volume has been much higher for P2P, I am going for three weeks. I want to feel 100% ready to go at the start. Although I didn't feel bad at the start of San Diego, I wasn't dying to run either. This time, I want to be itching to run, and I hope to use by experience to hold myself back during the early miles. I don't have each day of the next three weeks planned. Instead, I will go by feel aiming to get to the start as fresh as possible. I will be sure to report the details just before the race or in my race report.

Thanks for reading, and good luck in your fall races! Enjoy the pictures!

Mt. Shasta - 8/9/14
Our first glimpse of Mt. Shasta on the climb.
We started way down there!
Red Rock.
Levi and I at the summit!!
Glacier!
The clouds rolled in on the north side.
A few others at the summit.
More glaciers.
The registry.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

San Diego Recovery, TRT100 Pacing, Mt. Whitney and Lake Tahoe


First of all, sorry for the long delay between posts. I really hope to avoid such delays in the future. However, life as been somewhat crazy since the San Diego 100. Since then, I have had a few epic adventures! In the future, I will try to post more frequently to avoid ridiculously long posts! At least scroll through the pictures!

After a couple of easier weeks after San Diego, I have started to build up my mileage again to prepare for September. I say September because it will be an epic month. First, I will be racing the Pine to Palm 100 (P2P), which will be my most difficult 100 to date. Unlike San Diego, which for a few reasons, I think was a fairly conservative race for me, P2P will hopefully be at race effort. In the past my 100 mile races have been mostly about finishing, and now that I have three under my belt, I want to race one. Especially, after SD, I feel far more comfortable with distance, nutrition and strategy. Then, two weeks after P2P, I will be participating in a charity run for the Ronald McDonald Houses (RMH) of Bakersfield and the Central Valley. The run is 135 miles from the RMH in Bakersfield to the one in Madera, CA. I will be running solo and have the ambitious goal of 24 hours for the flat course. For those unfamiliar, the worldwide RMH's offer free housing near hospitals for the families of sick children. The RMH tries to alleviate some of the major financial stresses of caring and providing for a sick child while allowing the family to live together and in close proximity to the necessary medical care. For those interested in more information about the run or donating please click here for the fundraiser or signup sites. Any donations, no matter how small, would be greatly appreciated. If you are interested in running solo or forming a relay, I would love to see you out there!

Although, I probably didn't give it enough time, I think I recovered from San Diego pretty quickly. I was definitely moving slowly in the days after, but I never had the extreme soreness and fatigue I have experienced in the past. I run a lot of doubles commuting to and from work, which amounts to seven runs in 72 hours, and I think this helps train the body to recover quicker. Plus, I ate everything in site maximizing my nutritional needs. That said, I took about six days off after the race, and I could not resist joining the San Francisco Running Company (SFRC) for 15 miles the following Saturday on a beautiful day in Marin County. I realize long races fatigue your entire body, not just your muscles. I acknowledge that I did not  have the discipline to take more time off, which would not have hurt. Fact is, I love the trails and could not resist the temptation of a beautiful day. In the future, I hope to be more disciplined, after all, I want to be running for a long time. Since San Diego, I have had some great training weeks, couple weekends in Tahoe and a Mt. Whitney summit. Continue reading for the details and photos!

Tahoe Rim Trail 100 - Pacing (7/18 - 7/20) strava pt. 1strava pt. 2
At the beginning of the year, I offered to pace my friend Chris at the Tahoe Rim Trail 100 (TRT100), which would be his first and my first time pacing. I first met Chris at the 2013 American River 50, where he finished about a minute behind me.

The TRT100 consists of two identical 50 mile loops starting and finishing at Spooner Lake on the Nevada side of the lake. The course heads north to Lake Marlette, continues north along the Tahoe Rim Trail before descending down to the Diamond Peak Ski Resort lodge at mile 30. Next, the runners will head up the ski runs on an infamous 1,700' climb in just two miles. Once atop the ski resort, the course returns to the TRT and heads back to Spooner Lake, but instead of heading back by Lake Marlette, the course heads up Snow Peak at just over 9,000'.

The plan was for me to meet him at mile 30, Diamond Peak, and then pace the entire second loop from 50 too 100. Chris left our hotel room in Carson City very early to catch the bus to the start, which would give me a couple extra hours of sleep. I won't go through the play-by-play details, and instead, I'll just summarize.

Chris went through hell battling everything from quads and hamstrings to altitude sickness, but I was able to bring him to the finish in about 17.5 hours for the second 50 miles and 31:35 overall. I know he is capable of much faster times, but there is something to be said for grinding it out to the finish! Congrats! He seemed convinced he would drop at mile 80, but after a three hour nap, another sunrise and some convincing on my part, we continued and most importantly, finished. We battled severe thunderstorms and lightening, rain and even M&M sized hail.

My weekend miles were 90% hiking, but a lot of time on my feet and sleep deprivation, which is all good training! I started pacing at 5pm Saturday and we hit mile 80 at 3am Sunday morning. After helping Chris and 45 minutes of sleep for myself, we headed out for the last 20 at 5:30am Sunday morning to finish around 1pm. All of my pacing was at altitudes between 7,000' - 9,000', which did not seem to affect me, although it was mostly hiking at an easy effort.

I learned a few things from my pacing duties. First, I consumed an enormous amount of caffeine to stay awake for nearly 36 hours. All of the caffeine made me have to go to the bathroom numerous times, which reminded me to consume more fluids to stay hydrated. When pacing someone who is hiking, it is easy to catch up, but at a running or racing effort, it would be a huge waste of time. Also pacing and crewing is hard work and requires practice. The better you know your runner, the better. At times, I didn't know what to tell Chris when he was struggling because I felt I did not know him well enough. Some runners want tough love, while others might want to be reminded of their family. My strategy was to tell him that all of these issues are supposed to happen and this is why 100 miles is so hard. This is why we do it, to fight through so much adversity and still finish. Overall, pacing was a great experience, and I recommend others to give it a try. Sure, the runner gets all the glory, but a good pacer and crew can be the difference between an awesome finish and a DNF.

Mt. Whitney - Hike/Run (7/22 - 7/24) strava
Our first glimpse of Mt. Whitney way in the distance.
While waiting for my runner at the TRT100 start, I started talking to a friend about trying to organize a small group to climb Mt. Shasta. Another friend quickly mentioned he was climbing Mt. Whitney the following Wednesday and believed they had a couple extra spots on their permit. I couldn't resist, and two days later, I was driving down to Lone Pine and the Whitney Portal. I was very excited to climb my first 14er and see how my body would react to the high altitude.

We set off at 4am with a group of 15, which consisted of all abilities, from the Whitney Portal at 8,300'. Not knowing how important it was for the group to stay together (from a park ranger point of view), we did out best to stay together. However, I quickly realized a break for an ultra runner is hiking, while a break for a hiker is sitting down. But our slow pace didn't matter at all to me as I was incredibly excited and appreciative to have a spot on the permit.

View from the top of the lower 48!
It was obviously dark when we started, and when the sun started to rise, we were treated to the stunning alpenglow. It looked as if the mountain was on fire. Soon after the sunrise we took a quick 30 minute break at 10,000' and a longer 1.5 hour break at 12,000', which was obviously above the tree line. There was a camp and alpine lake at 12,000', which allowed us to filter water to replenish our bottles. Next, we climbed the infamous 99 switchbacks up to Trail Crest and 13,600'. At this point, the views of the campground, alpine lakes to the east and west, surrounding mountains and Lone Pine were simply awe-inspiring. The exposed rock faces, jagged mountains and shear cliffs were very intimidating and intense. This very near to the point where the John Muir Trail intersects and heads off to Yosemite.

From Trail Crest to the summit was another 900' gain and 1.9 miles of large rocks, boulders and stunning views. Right around noon and after 8 hours, we finally summited. We took another hour long break to take pictures and enjoy the scenery before heading back down.

We decided to go down at our own pace, so myself and my friend John decided to run down. With only a couple short hiking breaks and a nasty fall, I made it back to the Portal in about 3 hours. I was very please to handle the altitude very well, without any problems. However, I did notice at 14,000', my hiking heart rate was near 7 - 7:30 pace at sea level! Overall, it was an epic day that I will never forget! I would highly recommend Mt. Whitney! Enjoy the pictures at the end too!

Lake Tahoe - (7/25 - 7/27) strava pt. 1, strava pt. 2

Morning shot of Lake Tahoe.
Two consecutive weekends in Tahoe and a Mt. Whitney summit in-between?!?! Indeed, life is good! Months ago, my friend Ben and I were hoping to plan weekend running trip either in Tahoe, Yosemite or Big Sur. Since we both have altitude races coming up, Tahoe or Yosemite seemed to be best. Eventually we picked Tahoe since we were more familiar with the trails and they still had a last minute campsite available at Mt. Rose.

The first day we planned to summit Mt. Rose at 10,800' and take advantage of some of the nearby trails in the Mt. Rose Wilderness. The Mt. Rose summit offered some spectacular views of Lake Tahoe and the surrounding mountains. We ran along the Rim to Reno trail, which connects the TRT to the city of Reno. It was apparent by a little overgrowth this trail was not well travelled, but offered some great mountain views and dense tree cover all over 9,000'. We were able to filter water in a nearby creek to refill our bottles and continue. Upon returning to the Mt. Rose junction, Ben decided to turn back to camp, while I added on a few miles by summiting Relay Peak at 10,300' along the TRT. There was an awesome ridge trail up to the peak, which was favorite part of the run and offered some spectacular views.

Almost to Relay Peak in North Tahoe.
The second day we wanted to get in about 20 miles. So we parked the car at the intersection of Highway 267 and the TRT on the northern California side of the lake. We ran 4-6 miles in each direction and used our car as an aid station in the middle. This strategy works out great so you don't have to worry about carrying a ton of water and nutrition. There were a fair amount of mountain bikers on the TRT, but all were nice and courteous. As usual, more gorgeous views and dense forests. Every time I go to Tahoe I am always blown away by its beauty. By far one of my favorite places in US.

Training Weeks
Below I quickly summarize my weeks since the San Diego 100. Currently, I have three more weeks of training as I buildup to some big weeks before I start my three week taper for Pine to Palm! Crazy how fast time flies! Don't forget to scroll down to checkout more pictures!

Training Week 6/9 - 6/15
29.4 miles with 5,900ft gain in 4:54
I didn't run Monday thru Friday to recover from San Diego. Although most would argue I didn't take enough time off, I felt good and seemed to bounce back pretty quickly. I ambitiously ran 30 miles Saturday and Sunday. On Saturday, I couldn't resist joining the SFRC on a blue bird day in Marin. I never intended to run the entire route, but I felt good the whole time, so I kept going. Sunday was different. Rather stupidly, I summited Vollmer Peak for 15.5 miles and 3,000' in gain. I felt pretty banged up after this run. Yikes...

Training Week 6/16 - 6/22
60.4 miles with 5,400ft gain in 9:38
During the week, I went back home to Chicago for a work commitment, and fortunately, I was able to stay at my parent's house. It was great to see them and visit for a bit. Each morning I ran a few miles, but it was ridiculously humid. The thought of Rocky Raccoon kept coming back into my head, and I started questioning whether or not I want to go back next year. Of course I do! On Saturday, my buddy Ben asked if I was up for a slow, casual long run in Marin. Of course, I accepted. At the end, we had racked up 32 miles and 4,300' of gain, but I felt pretty good the whole time. I only fueled with water and three gels. We started in Mill Valley and made our way across the Golden Gate into San Francisco to join another friend for a couple laps of the PCTR Summer Solstice 24hr run at Crissy Field. Beautiful, but a very windy day.

Training Week 6/23 - 6/29
80.4 miles with 8,700ft gain in 12:58
I started commuting again back and forth to Berkeley during the week. On Saturday, I did a quick and early 13 miles so I could geek out on Western States all day. Then on Sunday, I ran 30 miles with Chris throughout the Easy Bay Regional Parks. It was great to get in a long run with Chris before I pace him for 50 miles at TRT100.

Training Week 6/30 - 7/6
65.5 miles with 7,700ft gain in 8:58
I tried to cut back this week. I still commuted back and forth to Berkeley, but kept the weekend miles under control. I ran with the SFRC for 13 miles Saturday on a really foggy day in Marin. On Sunday, I took advantage of the all the easy days and ran up Vollmer as fast as I could. I reached the peak in 1:09, which is 7.75 miles and about 2,500' in gain, while the round trip time was 2:06 for 15.5 miles and 3000' of gain. I was wiped out at the end, but it felt great to smash my old PB's of 1:15 and 2:15. To be fair though, those were fairly weak and more of a comfortably hard effort.

Training Week 7/7 - 7/13
73.5 miles with 8,300ft gain in 10:57
Again, standard commutes during the week, but I added a couple nice climbs Wednesday and Friday. The weekend was fairly standard too as I joined the SFRC for 15 miles Saturday. On Sunday, I ran 20 miles solo throughout some of the East Bay Parks, including a Vollmer summit. My stomach was killing me nearly the whole time, not sure what it was, however, I could barely get any water down and no calories. It was a sufferfest!

Training Week 7/14 - 7/20
87.4 miles with 12,800ft gain in 18:50
Nice and easy runs during the week, no commuting, in order to gear up for 50 miles of pacing at TRT100. We headed out to Auburn Thursday to stay at a friend's place before heading out to Carson City. Friday morning we ran a nice and easy run near HWY49 and No Hands Bridge. I absolutely love that bridge and the views of the American River. Saturday and Sunday I was on pacing duty.

Myself at the Whitney Summit.
Training Week 7/21 - 7/27
102.5 miles with 18,600ft gain in 19:41
Easy and flat 10 miles on Tuesday just before we headed out to Lone Pine to climb Mt. Whitney. Wednesday I climbed Mt. Whitney, which is described in more details above and more photos below. On our way back from Lone Pine, we stopped at Tuolumne Meadow in Yosemite for a quick 10 mile run, which was a blast. We ran up to Lake Elizabeth, which was beautiful. Maybe not the most popular site to see, but definitely a hidden gem to say the least. Then after a quick 8.5 miles on Friday, I was back in the car head to Tahoe for the weekend!


Training Week 7/28 - 8/3
53.2 miles with 7,200ft gain in 8:04
Another cut back week. I took it super easy during the week with some flat 5 - 6 mile runs. On Saturday, I joined the SFRC for 14 miles in Marin. It was another foggy day so the views were limited, but it was great to catch up with all the other runners. Around mile 11, I took a detour to bomb down Fox Trail, which loses about 700' in 1.1 miles. My goal was to beak 5 minutes since I have never broken that barrier for the mile. Even though it was a steep downhill, I completed the segment in 4:56 and ran my fastest mile ever, 4:37 (according to strava anyway). I was super excited! Sunday, I slowly climbed up to Vollmer Peak for my 12th summit of the year. I was definitely feeling that fast mile from the day before! It is amazing how just one fast mile can wreak havoc on your legs!

Enjoy all the pictures below!

Mt. Whitney - 7/23/14
Alpenglow in the morning.
Looking back toward the Portal.
Alpine lake near 12,000'.
Mt. Muir I believe.
On the 99 switchbacks.
The needles and spindles.
More alpine lakes on the other side of the ridge.
Trail Crest.
Lone Pine in the distance.
On the wall. 
Almost to the summit!
First time over 14,000'.
Backside of the spindles and needles.
11,000' above Lone Pine in the distance.
Tuolumne Meadow - 7/24/14
Getting close to Lake Elizabeth.
Lake Elizabeth.
Another nice shot of Lake Elizabeth.
Beautiful stream.
Tuolumen Meadow.
Lake Tahoe - 7/26/14, 7/27/14


Looking toward Reno on the Reno to Rim trail.
View from Mt. Rose.
View of Lake Tahoe from Mt. Rose. 
More from the top of Mt. Rose.
Above the tree line!
Somewhere on the Reno to Rim Trail.
On my own as I get close to Relay Peak. 
This was an awesome ridge to run. 
Nice view from the top of Relay Peak!