Thursday, April 30, 2015

Lake Sonoma 50 - April 11, 2015

Finish! Photo: Chris Jones
First of all, I must apologize for the lack of activity over the last few months. This hiatus was not intended, and I plan to write much more frequently in the second half of 2015. I will be graduating next month, and when deciding between writing a blog post or my thesis, I had no choice. Also, I will be starting a new job in the Dallas/Fort Worth area in June. I will miss the beautiful trails in California no doubt, but I am excited for the new adventure.

As I mentioned above, I am graduating this semester so I have been super busy writing my thesis, getting some results and searching for a job. Unfortunately, this did not leave much time to run. However, it was a nice time for my body to recover and rebuild from all the miles and racing in 2014. I learned a valuable lesson that we all need time off, mentally and physically. Although I still ran, I probably averaged around 40 miles per week since January 1st. Also due to a lot of traveling for interviews, I got sick twice, taking nearly five days off each time.

So obviously, my training was not even close to what I had hoped. However, I was able to get in a fair amount of quality workouts in. I did everything from hill repeats, tempo runs and intervals on a fairly regular basis. In the past, I was always focused on mileage, however, I have been able to let this go and focus more on quality, which was a nice change. I was also confident as I have have run and learned a lot since my last 50 miler in December 2013. So I was very curious to see how Lake Sonoma would play out. Finally, I did not put any pressure on myself to hit a particular time, and instead, just have fun.

Going into the race, I was very excited to finally run Lake Sonoma after spectating in 2013 and volunteering in 2014. Long story short, I ran an nicely paced race. I came in 8:04:53, which was good enough for 38th place overall in a super stacked field. I was able to run at nearly a constant effort all day and only had about a 20 minute positive split. I came out not too beat up, which will make for a great training run for Angeles Crest in August. Huge thanks to all the volunteers and race organizers for a flawlessly executed race. Finally, huge congrats to all my Bay Area friends who also ran!

Race Report
This "race" felt more like a training run. I never felt really good nor did I ever feel really bad. I never pushed really hard nor did I have to resort to the infamous death march. Honesty, I was just having fun and soaking up the beautiful scenery. So a play-by-play race report would be quite boring, and I will keep this short and to the point. I still have some work on my thesis anyway.

I was able to pack 15 gels and 7 servings of Tailwind in my shorts and belt. This way, there was no need to have any dropbags and I only had to rely on the aid stations for water.

The race as usual started out fast, but I'd like to think after many ultras, I am smarter than that. So I just focused on running a comfortable pace, especially for the first few miles on the road. I noticed tons of elite ultra-runners and many local Bay Area runners. It was great to talk with everyone before we hit the trails.

Honestly, I did not feel particularly great for the first 10 miles or so. I was running along comfortable, but I just wasn't feeling it. Nothing major, just did not feel ready to run. I think this may have been due to the super early morning and not much sleep leading up to race day. In the past, I was running a lot more in the early mornings, while lately, afternoon runs have been a lot more convenient. I think my body was not ready to run, but after 15 - 20 miles, I felt much better and was enjoying the day.

Around this point, I was running with my friend Rudy and Kaci Lickteig. We talked for a few miles, which was nice and made a couple miles fly by. By now, the day was warming up and it was shaping up to be an epic day in Northern California. After a mile or two, Kaci decided to slow down, and Rudy and I moved ahead a bit. Eventually, we caught up with our buddies Edmundo and Sebastian, and it was really nice to catch up with them for a few miles. After one of the few steepish climbs up to Madrone Point at mile 18, they pulled ahead and I was falling behind.

At the turnaround with Meghan. Photo: Chris Jones
At some point between here and the turnaround at mile 25, I met up Meghan Arbogast. It was so nice to meet her and talk. She is incredible! I must have stayed within 100 yards of her for the next 20 miles. She was moving slightly quicker on the downhills, while I was climbing a bit faster. The next 20 miles was all about managing effort. I mixed some running and hiking on the climbs, while I ran all the downhills. Kaci caught back up and passed me, but I kept her in sight for a while. She ended up finishing about 40s ahead of me.

On the way back there were at least five major creek crossings, which were amazing. Each time, I soaked my entire body, which gave me a great burst of energy. At the last aid station at mile 45, there was a short little quarter mile out and back. I noticed a handful of runners within a couple minutes. I felt good so I thought I would push the last five miles and go for a few places. I passed four or five runners on the final climb up to the finish, which felt great. I am usually on the receiving end of that!

It felt great to finish strong with some gas in the tank. I think this turned out to be a great comfortable effort and perfect training for Angeles Crest.

Lake Sonoma's post race is very nice. Plenty of Racer 5 and tamales to go around. It is awesome to talk and get to know all the elites as well. If you can, Lake Sonoma is definitely worth being a part of either as a spectator, volunteer or runner.

I recently read a blog post by Wyatt Hornsby about the honeymoon in ultra running. When I first got into ultras in 2012, running was all I could think about. I was constantly reading articles, planning races and looking forward to my next long run. I was definitely in the honeymoon period, and running had a serious impact on every other aspect of my life. It took time away from school and work, and ultimately forced me to rethink my career goals and what I wanted out of life.

Over the last 4 months running has taken a back seat to life as I have had to put nearly all of my effort on graduating and finding a job. Looking back, this was such a healthy mental break from my obsession with running. I still ran 40 - 50 miles a week and got in some quality workouts, but there was no stress to get in a run or hit big miles. I stopped reading articles online and worrying about the latest gear or nutrition.

My point is that it felt really good not to stress out about every little detail. I am really glad I had this forced break from my running obsession. Now, I don't plan to stop running anytime soon, and I am really looking forward to ramping up my training and getting back into it for Angeles Crest. However, just like running big miles ever weeks, obsessing over running is not sustainable, and I needed a break and time to step away. I totally understand why so many take the winter off to ski or do something else. I think this is a great mentality for longevity in the sport.

Lessons Learned
1. Training - You don't need to run big miles each week to have a good race. I peaked at 60 miles from January 1st to race day. I got in some quality workouts and a couple long runs around 20 miles. Now, I was also relying on my experience and cumulative miles from the previous couple years. My point is that once you have some experience, you probably don't necessary have to train big to succeed. I did not expect a PR time on tough course. However, I ran a much better race and finished with gas in the tank compared to my 7:20 at American River. I will take this into account as a I plan for Angeles Crest.

2. Aid Stations - I think I have said this in every race report. But don't waste time in the aid stations. Since I only needed water at each aid station, I never stopped for more than a minute. If you are going for a time, you can't afford to waste it. Plus, by carrying my own nutrition, I knew I already had exactly what I wanted. I didn't have to worry about gel flavors or anything, and instead, I just filled up my bottle and left.

Advice for LS50
One of the many creek crossings. Photo: Chris Jones
1. Hills - The whole course is runnable, and there are only three relatively steep climbs, each with only 500 - 700 feet of gain. However, this course manages to pack in 10,5000 feet of gain! The are no flat sections, and the course just rolls along the lake. It can be hard to get into a rhythm. Be sure to train for relentless, small, rolling hills if possible. Don't worry so much about getting in steep climbs or a ton of gain. Alex Varner said it best "death by a thousand cuts."

2. Creeks - There are around 10 creek crossings if I remember correctly. However, this will also depend on the water levels. Make sure to have shoes that drain well. Also, I wore compression socks and sleeves. In the afternoon, I soaked myself in the creeks. The cold, wet compression gear helped keep me cool for a while. It was super refreshing!

Saturday, January 31, 2015

2015 Plans

I hope everyone had a great holiday! I just want to provide a quick post on my 2015 plans. In a couple weeks, I would also like to post a very belated 2014 review.

I had hoped to run the Rocky Raccoon 100, which is today, but unfortunately, I was not able to find reasonable airfare that fit my schedule. I am bummed, but honestly, I don't feel in shape anyway. During the holidays my diet and running suffered a bit. Actually, it was a much need break and rest. As I write this, I will end January with 142 miles, which is my lowest monthly mileage since December 2013. 

Now, I am ready to start training and preparing for 2015. I am only looking at a few races, and I would really like to train highly focused for each race and recover. Officially, I am registered for Lake Sonoma 50 (4/11), Angeles Crest 100 (8/1) and the New York City Marathon (11/1). 

I am really looking forward to Lake Sonoma. I have volunteered there the last two years, and it is a great race. Depending on my fitness, I may go for a 50 mile personal best. It won't be easy to better my 7:21 at American River on a much more difficult course, but I am a far better and more experienced runner since 2013. Lets see how February and March go. 

Then, I will focus on Angeles Crest for my Western States qualifier. Super excited to run this old school 100. It will be hot and exposed with tons of downhill. 

In November, I will go for a marathon PR in New York. I have never run New York, but have run Chicago and Boston. I am really looking forward to being a part of the world's biggest marathon. Improving my 2:48 at Boston won't be easy, but with some training dedicated to speed and the marathon distance, it should definitely be within the realm of possibility. 

Finally, I may add a local training race in March to gauge my fitness for Lake Sonoma, but that will be a last minute decision depending on how the next few weeks go. If I have a rough day at Angeles Crest and am unable to get the Western States qualifier, I will strongly consider something like Rio del Lago, even if it is only a few weeks after NYC.

Stay tuned for my 2014 review and future training updates!!

Good luck planning and preparing for all of your 2015 races!

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Quad Dipsea - November 29, 2014

Quad Dipsea Gear
The infamous Dipsea Trail is about 7 miles one way with 2,300' of gain from Mill Valley to Stinson Beach in Marin County just North of San Francisco. Quad Dipsea is simple: run the Dipsea trail four times for a total of 28.4 miles and 9,200' of elevation gain. Each runner will run out and back from Mill Valley to Stinson Beach twice. There are two major climbs. The first climb to Windy Gap is about 700', while the second climbs about 1,300ft up to Cardiac. Since both Mill Valley and Stinson Beach are both at sea level, there is an equal amount of descent packed into this 7 mile trip. Quad Dispea is a very interesting race as it is short enough to maintain close to a marathon effort, but on trails with a lot of climbing and descent.

Long story short, I started in 7th place once the crowd of runners separated after a mile or two. Upon finishing the first leg, I manage to come into Stinson Beach in 5th place, and held this position until Mill Valley. On the third leg, I passed my friend Ezra on the climb up Cardiac for 4th place. Finally, I managed to catch and pass the 3rd place runner just after starting the last leg back to Mill Valley. I held 3rd place until the finish! Super excited to make the podium on such a challenging course in wet and muddy trail conditions. Strava link.

Thanks for all the support out there!

Race Report
Leg 1: Mill Valley to Stinson Beach - 1:03
The first leg was somewhat uneventful as I maintained a comfortably hard effort. After power hiking the Dipsea steps two at a time, the initial crowd of runners separated by Windy Gap. I had established 7th place and was running behind Karl Schnaitter and one other. After running the entire climb up to Cardiac, I was looking forward to the long downhill to Stinson Beach. The trail conditions were wet and muddy, which although slowed us down a bit, was a lot of fun. I was able to pass both Karl and one other on the descent through the rainforest to Stinson Beach, which put me in 5th place. After a few miles to warm up and get accustom to the hard effort, I was feeling great. I stuck to my plan of two gels per leg/hour.

Leg 2: Stinson Beach to Mill Valley - 1:05
On the return trip back to Mill Valley, my goal was to simply maintain my effort and continue taking in calories. I ran nearly the whole leg except for the steps out of Stinson Beach through the rainforest. Like the first leg, I ran straight through Cardiac without stopping. On the way down the Dipsea steps, I realized I was only a couple minutes behind my good friend Ezra in 4th place. I eventually reached Mill Valley, quickly drank two cups of water and headed back up the steps. Unfortunately, I also noticed Jean Pommier was only a couple minutes behind me.

Leg 3: Mill Valley to Stinson Beach - 1:08
Of course, I hiked back up the steps to start the third leg. I was excited to reach Windy Gap and the nice downhill to Muir Woods. I did my best to run most of the climb up Cardiac, but I was forced to hike some sections. Unfortunately, the trail conditions deteriorated a bit with all the traffic. The Dynamite sections was pretty slick. Just after Dynamite, I caught Ezra in 4th place. We talked for a second, and he seemed to be struggling a bit. This climb up Cardiac seemed to take forever. At the top, I was informed by the aid station that I was only a minute or two behind 3rd. Soon I started seeing the 3rd place runner up ahead. By now, I was feeling it, but I keep pushing as I knew 3rd wasn't far ahead and neither was Ezra behind.

Leg 4: Stinson Beach to Mill Valley - 1:13
The fourth leg of Quad Dipsea is a special feeling. It is brutal to say the least. I caught the 3rd place runner at the turnaround in Stinson Beach and made the pass. Now, I was definitely running scared as I wanted to hold a podium finish. I did my best to run as much as possible back up to Cardiac, but was forced to hike up the rainforest steps again and also added a couple more hiking breaks on some steeper sections even though I would normally run them. Running through the Cardiac aid station for the last time was special as a lot of local bay area runners were out cheering. I pushed it down to Muir Woods, but had to be extremely careful on Dynamite since it was super slippery. After alternating between hiking and running up to Windy Gap and keeping an eye behind hide me, I couldn't be happier to descend down to Mill Valley to the finish in 3rd.

I can't thank all the volunteers, spectators and other runners enough for all the support and encouragement along the way. I tried to respond to everyone, but towards the end, I didn't have enough breath to speak. Also, huge thanks to all the runners moving to the side allowing me to pass by. With nearly 300 runners going back and forth on the same trail, passing on the narrow, muddy single track is very difficult. Big thanks to the race director for flawlessly executing the race!

Without a doubt, the best part of this race was the support of the local trail running community. Quad Dipsea is an local, old school trail race. It was so cool to be cheered on in Mill Valley, Cardiac and Stinson by the volunteers and spectators. Furthermore, the other runners were incredible and always shouting words of encouragement. The cheers and encouragement along the way were truly amazing and something I'll never forget. I am very fortunate and proud to be a part of such a supportive community. To me, there is nothing better than the encouragement from another runner/competitor in a race. They know the pains and difficulty first hand.

It felt really good to run a shorter race at maximum effort. I love the longer races, but this was a lot of fun. Next year, I want to focus a bit more on shorter, faster efforts in both training and racing.

Lessons Learned
1. Nutrition - I carried 10 gels on me from the start and consumed 9 of them during the race. My goal was two gels an hour with Tailwind in my bottle. This plan worked flawlessly as I never felt on the verge of bonking. For harder efforts, especially for 50k or 50 miles and maybe even including the marathon, I realized I might be able to consume more calories per hour than I originally thought.

2. Aid Stations - Especially in shorter races, you cannot waste time in aid stations. I only refilled my bottle at Stinson Beach. Furthermore, since I had all my gels from the start, I did not have to worry about calories. Therefore,  I was in and out in seconds. If you are going for time, this strategy will give you a free minute or two.

3. Handheld Bottles - In the past, I swore by the handheld bottles. I hate vests and belts since they fatigue the core and may cause stomach issues. Handhelds are not the best either, since you are swinging heavy bottles far from your core wasting energy. Recently, I have been training with either the Simple Hydration bottles or the Amphipod bottles in the waistband of my shorts. These bottles are designed to fit in your waistband. These have been working out great for me.

Thanks for reading and Happy New Year! Hopefully, I will post a 2014 recap and 2015 plans in a couple weeks!

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Grand Canyon R2R2R - October 12, 2014

About a mile from finishing!
When my friend Ben asked me if I was interested in joining a Rim to Rim to Rim (R2R2R2) Grand Canyon trip, I couldn't say no. Running R2R2R is on every ultra runner's bucket list, and even though it was only two weeks after the To the House 135 and four weeks after Pine to Palm, it was an easy decision to join. I also thought this would be a great opportunity to get out there before any drastic rules or regulations are established, as R2R2R is somewhat controversial at the moment. I won't go into too many details, but as the popularity of ultra running is growing so is the number of people attempting this route. Unfortunately, not everyone is well prepared, either physically or with their gear, and get themselves into trouble. Therefore, the park appears to be addressing these issues and may regulate such activities.

Our group, of eight, split into two groups. The first group of six, myself included, planned to start around 3:30am and move slower. The other two planned to sleep in, hit the trails around 6am and move a little quicker. After hitting the South Kaibab Trail at 3:40am, I made it to the North Rim just before 9am. The return trip back to the South Rim took a little bit longer, but I made it back just after 3pm. The total time was 11:28, and here is the strava file. I wrote this in the same format as a race report. If you are planning a R2R2R trip, be sure to give the lessons learned a quick glance.

We started about 3:40am, and although the temperature was nice, it was really windy. Descending all the switchbacks on the South Kaibab trail was somewhat treacherous as the dust was blowing all over and getting in our eyes. However, we eventually made it a few miles to Skeleton Point, and the wind had died down considerably. After we regrouped, we all turned off our headlamps to enjoy the silence, darkness and remoteness. This was absolutely incredible as a countless number of stars littered the sky.

After a few minutes, we carried on, downward toward the river. Soon, we got our first glimpse of the Colorado River, under the starlight, and shortly after, we made it to the huge suspension bridge. It was still completely dark. Our group separated a bit, but each of us had a buddy to run with. I was running with Brad. After a quick bathroom brake at Phantom Ranch, Brad and I powered forward toward Cottonwood.

Brad and I on our way to Cottonwood
The next seven miles to Cottonwood, was a nice gradual climb of about 1,500', which after descending nearly 5,000' in seven miles, seemed flat. We ran along the Bright Angel Creek on the North Kaibab Trail. I really enjoyed this part as we crossed numerous wooden bridges bouncing back and forth on each side of the creek. By now, the sun was rising, which was really cool. Since the canyon is nearly a mile deep, it takes a while for the sunlight to reach the bottom. Therefore, it was fairly dark on the trail, but the sky was illuminated above.

Eventually, we pulled into Cottonwood, and we refilled our bottles in preparation for the upcoming seven mile, 6,000' climb to the North Rim. After running all of the last 14 miles, we ran and hiked up the North Kaibab trail. Now, the sun had completely risen, and it was getting noticeably hotter. As we hiked and ran up, I pulled ahead of Brad. At this point, I caught up with another guy, Taylor, who was also attempting R2R2R. However, Taylor was having a tough day and was considering dropping at the North Rim. I made it to the North Rim in about five hours, and a half hour before Brad.

The North Rim is 8,000' above sea level, and it was quite windy and cold. So after resting a bit and refilling my bottles, I was anxiously awaiting Brad. Once he arrived, he quickly refilled his bottles, and we started our descent back down. Brad and I ran and chatted with Taylor, which was great, and it was also really nice to see the others in our group powering up to the North Rim.

Glorious single track!
Brad and Taylor were moving slower than myself, so I pulled ahead. There were also plenty of other trail users hiking down the North Rim. Eventually I stopped in a really narrow, shaded canyon section along the Bright Angel Creek to let Brad and Taylor catch up. Soon, Taylor passed and Brad came up shortly after. I was feeling good all day to this point, but I could tell Brad was starting to feel all the miles and climbing. Although, he was tired and fatigued, he was still able to keep moving forward to Phantom Ranch. However, we still had a seven mile, 5,000' climb to the South Rim.

Taylor was waiting for us at Phantom Ranch, and he also had a buddy meet him there for the way back up. Since both Brad and Taylor were pretty wiped out, they decided to stay together, while I decided to head up on my own.

I wanted to head up the climb at a hard effort, however, this only lasted to Skeleton Point. After that, the wheels fell off, and I was forced to pretty much all hiking with little to no running. My quads were destroyed, not to mention the lack of oxygen at 5,000' - 7,000' above sea level. I was feeling it for sure.

Heading back up the South Kaibab Trail.
Once I got closer to the top, I could see a lot of hikers and tourists, which is the telltale sign your close to the trailhead. A nice German girl took my picture, just before the top. I made it back in about 6.5 hours. Looking across the canyon, knowing I had gone R2R2R, was an awesome feeling. I will never look at the Grand Canyon the same!

As the first one back in our group, I was in charge to pick up some beer at the local market. Looking across the canyon as the sun set with a cold beer, was a fitting end to an epic adventure.

Lessons Learned/Advice
1. Dropping Out - Unlike a race, there is nowhere to quit if things are not going your way. When you start, you are committing to the entire trip. I don't think most people, myself included, realize this fact, which can lead to serious situations with severe consequences. Sure, you could plan for a crew at the North Rim, however, that is a 200+ mile drive, one way, from the South Rim. In most races you can easily drop out at the next aid station if you get sick, fall or whatever else, but in the Grand Canyon, this is not so easy. I am sure you can find help at Phantom Ranch or Cottonwood, but obviously resources are limited deep in the canyon. Make sure you are 100% confident in your current abilities.

Perfect day in the Grand Canyon!
2. Water - I knew this going into the run, so it is not a lesson learned, but everyone must know where to find water. First, there is absolutely no water on the South Kaibab Trail, which means no fresh water and nothing to filter. Generally, water is not an issue on the decent from the South Rim to the river. This 7-mile downhill can be covered in little over an hour for most runners. However, this could definitely be an issue on the way back from the river to the South Rim. With 35 miles already on your legs and especially if it is a hot day, the exposed 7-mile, 5,000' climb back to the South Rim could take awhile to say the least. Be sure to drink enough water at Phantom Ranch to start the climb hydrated, and of course, fill up your bottles and bladders. If you are worried about water, take the more gradual Bright Angel Trail, which although is a couple miles longer, has opportunities for water. There is water at Phantom Ranch, and although there is no drinking water from Phantom Ranch to Cottonwood (7-miles), you could filter water from the Bright Angel Creek, if necessary. The next 7-miles up to the North Rim, has water ever couple miles at Cottonwood, the Pump House, Roaring Springs and the Supai Tunnel, however, these are seasonal sources. Therefore, be sure to check availability ahead of time, and I have been told the Grand Canyon website is not updated regularly so it is best to call ahead. After Roaring Springs, there are no options to filter water for the last 5-miles up to the North Rim, however the Supai Tunnel is only 3-miles up and 2-miles from the top, which also has water (seasonal). Please note, this is just my experience in October 2014, which could change in the future, so be sure to do your research and call ahead.
A lot of wooden steps...

3. Difficulty - This goes without saying, but R2R2R is hard. The route is 42 miles with 11,000' of gain at altitudes up to 8,000'. Not to mention it is hot and exposed with little to no support, other than a few water stops. Also recognize there are long climbs and long descents, 7-miles, which is a different workout, compared to a bunch of short climbs and descents, as in the Marin Headlands, for example.

4. Weather - The weather is drastically different on South/North Rim than deep in the canyon. It was nearly 90 degrees at Phantom Ranch, while it was in the 60s and windy on the North Rim. Be sure to plan accordingly and consider bringing some extra layers, arm sleeves, gloves or a hat.

5. Rules/Permits - The rules and regulations regarding hiking and running in the Grand Canyon are changing. Make sure to check with the park before your trip. As I write this, only publicly organized groups (like a school or church group for example) or guided tours need permits, but this could change in the near future.

6. Respect - As R2R and R2R2R become more popular, it is also becoming more controversial, and it is especially important to be courteous, leave no trace and come prepared. Respect the other trail users. I always stopped running to hike past others after letting them know I was passing. In this way, I was just a faster hiker, and they could not be upset I was running. Finally, respect the difficulty of the route and be prepared for anything. If we don't follow the basic rules, it will be easy for the park to considering regulating such attempts in some way making it less accessible for others.

The Grand Canyon is one of the most spectacular places on earth. As you approach the canyon from afar, there is absolutely no sign of the beauty ahead, which is quite different than the mountains as they can be seen from a distance. As you approach the rim through the pine forest, eventually the canyon comes into view. The vastness and magnificence of the canyon is breathtaking. From the rim, you can't even see the bottom, nearly a mile below.

Growing up in the states, I learned about and saw countless pictures of the Grand Canyon in grade school, however, I never thought I would ever see it. Fast forward a couple decades and here I am, looking across the canyon, knowing I will be attempting a double-crossing the next day. It was an awesome feeling I'll never forget as the sun set to the west.

R2R2R didn't disappoint one bit. The views are epic, the climbs are long and steep, the weather is hot and cold, and route makes sense. This year, I have thoroughly enjoyed racing less and adventuring more, which could not be more apparent after R2R2R. Racing is fun no doubt, but it is much harder on the body. Adventuring is a more casual effort, which allows you to truly appreciate your surroundings.
Somewhere on the North Kaibab Trail
Brad and I at the North Rim
Looking back near the North Rim.
North Kaibab Trail
North Kaibab Trail
Bridge over the Colorado River
Final Switchbacks up to the South Rim!
Epic Adventure!

Friday, October 31, 2014

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

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.

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

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!!

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.  

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!!
The clouds rolled in on the north side.
A few others at the summit.
More glaciers.
The registry.