Monday, March 31, 2014

Training and Nutrition Update (end March)

Training Update - End March
San Francisco and Golden Gate Bridge from the East Bay
In this post, I want to provide an update on my Boston and San Diego 100 training as well as give some preliminary results with some nutrition products I have been experimenting with. As promised, I have some nice running photos from the last couple weeks of training, enjoy! In my last post, I mentioned that I was considering running the Oakland Half Marathon as a tune-up race for Boston, however, I decided not to run the race for a few reasons.

First, I thought it would take too long to recover from. In the past, I have noticed my body seems to recover much slower from short and fast races. My hamstrings took at least 10 days to feel normal after running the Berkeley Half last November. This fatigue could be due to my lack of more formal speed work, like intervals or tempo runs, in training, which I have done very little of, if any, in the last few months.

Secondly, I wasn't sure how the Oakland Half would fit into my San Diego goal, which is my main focus, not Boston. A fast half marathon with a little taper beforehand and 10 days of sore hamstrings, obviously doesn't sound ideal for 100 mile training or even marathon training.

Rodeo Beach, Marin Headlands
Finally, I questioned the idea of a tune-up race. Boston will be an all-out effort, regardless of weather or other external factors. A tune-up race would just give me an idea of my potential at Boston, assuming similar conditions, which could be used to determine my goal splits. However, this somewhat goes against my racing philosophy. I have never raced with splits before, and in fact, my best marathons have all been run by feel, without a watch. For example, my marathon PR at CIM 2012, I ran as hard as I could for 26.2 miles without a watch or knowing a single split through torrential rain and strong headwinds. The first time I saw a clock was 100 yards before the finish, 2:52, and after crossing the line, I collapse into the arms of the medical staff. The whole race I kept questioning myself whether or not I could hold on and seemed to be on the verge of blowing up. I don't want to get too philosophical in this post, but I race to find my true potential and that feeling at the finish knowing I gave it every ounce of my being. I want to feel 100% depleted with nothing left in the tank. In my opinion, if one is constantly trying to hit splits, racing becomes all about time and competition, which is not why I run. Perhaps my racing philosophy is a great subject for a future post, but to me, racing is all about trying to get as close as possible to one's true potential at that given instant. If you hit all your splits, one must wonder if they could have gone faster. If not, then you are disappointed because your fitness is less than you thought, even if you gave it everything you had. Of course, time goals and race strategies are important, and it is important to recognize your ability to determine your general strategy. However, more times than not, my strategies go right out the window before the start due to weather conditions, stomach issues or something else unexpected, and this usually leads to my most memorable and meaningful races, regardless of time. For CIM 2012, it lead to a PR against horrific weather conditions.

Although $95 might be reasonable for a big city half marathon a week before, I would rather spend the money on shoes or gear!
Coastal Trail out of Rodeo Beach
Training Week 3/17 - 3/23
88.6 miles with 7,900ft of gain in 12:19
Since San Diego is my focus this season, my training will be ultra focused, meaning back-to-back long runs, more hills and more miles rather then traditional speed work. During the week, I commuted to and from work adding a little climbing in the Berkeley Hills. For the weekend, I had a great 20 mile run with the San Francisco Running Company Saturday. The first 15 miles had 2,200ft of climbing, and I was holding a comfortably hard pace both up and down. I finished the last four miles (flat) at 6:40 pace, which felt really good. This run gives me a ton of confidence for Boston and even makes me think 2:50 could be possible depending on the weather and the next few weeks. On Sunday, I went for 30 miles with my friend Dario. We did a 30 mile East Bay loop (Strava) through Wildcat Canyon, Tilden Park, Vollmer Peak, Claremont Canyon, downtown Berkeley, Berkeley Marina, Albany Bulb and Point Isabel. I felt a little bonky around miles 24 to 27, but only fueled with UCAN 30 minutes before and a couple gels to that point. At mile 25, I took a Pocket Fuel nut butter, which made the last few miles much better. This run was the first time I tried Pocket Fuel, and I thought it was great. 

Training Week 3/24 - 3/30
90 miles with 13,500ft gain in 13:51
Tennessee Valley Beach
This past week, I did my standard commutes back and forth, but added more climbing in the Berkeley Hills. On the weekend, I had two great long runs with a lot of climbing. Saturday, I went out in the pouring rain with the SFRC and extended the run to 20 miles with 3,000ft of climbing. I went at a fairly conservative pace because of the weather, and I knew Sunday would be epic. On Sunday, I ran up Mt. Tamalpais in Marin followed by a double Dipsea for 24 miles and 7,000ft of climbing (Strava). For those unaware, the Dipsea Trail in Marin hosts the iconic Dipsea Race starting in Mill Valley and finishing at Stinson Beach, which is about 7.5 miles and 2,500ft of gain. The Dipsea Race is one of the oldest and most unique races in the country as it started in 1905, has a staggered start based on age/gender and also allows shortcuts. A double Dipsea is out and back for about 15 miles and 5,000ft gain. It was a long and sometimes brutal day on the trails. The Dipsea Trail is very tough consisting of well over 600 steps and some challenging climbs, but stunning views. An unexpected highlight was that Timothy Olson (Western States 100 course record holder) was in the Bay Area for The Northface and joined the run. It was an honor to meet and run with him. He is an incredible person. Thanks for taking it easy on us!

In the past weeks, I have been steadily increasing mileage, but have keep the climbing between 7,000 and 8,000ft. It felt great to have a higher mileage week with a lot more climbing this week. I have been feeling very strong lately, with some awesome runs at hard efforts up and down. I hope to keep the mileage fairly high, in the 90 - 100 range, for the next couple weeks and continue increasing the vertical. Then, a mini taper for Boston. 

Nutrition Update
Mt. Tamalpais (Tam for short) from Vollmer Peak
Eventually, I want to post a proper review of each product, but obviously, I don't want to just try it once and write an ill-informed review. Instead, I would like to research the science behind each product and evaluate them over a few months. However, in the meantime, I plan to post my preliminary results and initial thoughts once or twice a month with my training updates.

Over the last two weekends I have been running back-to-back long runs of 20 - 30 miles each. Before each run, I had a minimal breakfast consisting of a couple spoonfuls of peanut butter, and then, about 30 minutes before each run, I took one serving of UCAN Sports Drink Mix as instructed. UCAN claims to supply a steady flow of energy to your muscles over a longer period of time without spiking blood sugar, which avoids a potential energy crash later on. In contrast, gels typically spike your blood sugar and offer quick energy, but often lead to a crash afterwards. On Saturday 3/22, I ran 20 miles with just water and no calories during the run. I felt great for the first 18 miles, and for miles 19 and 20, I felt in the initial stages of a potential bonk. However, I ran the last four miles of this run hard at 6:40 pace. So I think it was probably of combination of a hard effort and lack of calories. However, even the UCAN Guide suggests another serving around mile 18 or 20 anyway. The next day was similar, pre-workout with UCAN, and then I ran 30 miles taking a gel at mile 15 and 20 along with a Pocket Fuel nut butter at 25. This past weekend, I ran 20 and 24 mile back-to-backs with UCAN pre-workout, and again, felt sustained energy. As a first impression, I am impressed with UCAN and very excited to continue using the product.

Mt. Diablo from Vollmer Peak
Although Vitargo is also a super-starch, it appears to be quite different compared to UCAN. Vitargo claims to be absorbed much faster than typical maltodextrin gels, which allows you to consume more calories in a given period or time. This rapid absorption may help reduce the calorie deficit in long ultras (compared to standard gels and sport drinks), and also allow for quicker restoration of glycogen stores as a post-run recovery mix. After each of my back-to-back long runs, I immediately took one serving of Vitargo. Again, my first impression is very positive, and my legs felt really good, almost no soreness in the days after the long back-to-backs. I definitely noticed a substantial improvement from when I did not take anything designed for recovery. I almost always take Mondays off from running, but even after 44 and 50 mile weekends, I felt I could run, albeit not very hard, and actually, wanted to. I only took one serving of Vitargo, but the packages claims you can take up to three.

East Bay from Mt. Tam summit
My initial experience with these super-starches, UCAN and Vitargo, has been very positive. I have bought a few single serving packets to see if I like the products and to try the different flavors. This way, I avoid spending a lot of money on a huge tub of product I don't want. So if you are interested, I highly recommend purchasing the single serving packets to see how they work for you. As a disclaimer, I am in no way sponsored or affiliated with any of these nutrition products, and I am just reporting my limited knowledge on the subject from online sources and experience.



I will post again before Boston to provide a training update and my specific plans for the race! 

A few more photos for good measure!
Northern Tam summit view
Dipsea steps...
Another northern view from Mt. Tam

Monday, March 10, 2014

Planning Ahead - Spring 2014

If you have read any of my previous posts, you know one big thing I learned the hard way in 2013 is that I raced too much. So in 2014, I am trying to pick a few focus races to properly train and recover from. That said, if I just post race reports, this site will be pretty boring and not too helpful with less than ten posts this year. Therefore, I am going to try posting a couple times a month talking about my current training, race plans and maybe product reviews.

Spring 2014 Race Plan

4/21 - Boston Marathon
4/27 - Big Sur Marathon (Boston 2 Big Sur Challenge)
6/07 - San Diego 100 Mile

Of these races, my main focus is San Diego. If I could do well at any race, I would without a doubt choose San Diego. I would be absolutely thrilled to break 20 hours. The course will be challenging with about 12,000 feet of climbing and at elevations peaking over 6,000ft. However, I think 20 hours is a great goal for me. I ran Rio del Lago, which has about the same gain, in 23 hours, however, I took an hour nap at mile 74 and hiked about 20 miles of the last 26. I made some obvious nutrition and strategy mistakes that led to the epic bonk. I also ran Headlands 100 in 23 hours, but that has 20,000ft of gain.

As for Boston, I would like to give it a hard effort, but I want to keep San Diego in mind. That said, I will most likely treat it as a long speed session going for sub-3. If everything goes perfectly including the next six weeks of training, I may shoot for a PR looking at 2:50, but my training up to Boston will be more tailored to San Diego. I will be doing a lot more hill work than interval or tempo runs and therefore, will be banking on the 'hills are speed work in disguise' principal for Boston. One thing I noticed at the Chicago Marathon, which was a DNF at mile 4, is that I felt very out of place running with screaming spectators lining the streets because I have been accustomed to running small trail races. I have considered running the Oakland Half Marathon (3/23) to reacquaint myself with big city races. I thought it could be a good tune-up race. I have not registered yet, but I have until 3/14 before they raise the price. A tune-up race would give me a good indicator of my current fitness. At the end of the day, Boston will be an all out effort, there is no denying that, and it will be a question of how long I taper before. Right now, I am thinking two weeks, but that may change depending on the next few weeks of training. I am hoping to peak around 80-90 miles two weeks before Boston. If I still feel strong, I may shorten the taper to one week, otherwise, if I feel beat-up, I'll keep it at two weeks.

I know, Big Sur a week after Boston isn't exactly a recovery run, but I signed up last July, which was long before I realized I was racing too much. Right now, Big Sur will be a long run, and my effort level will largely depend on how Boston goes. However, I like how this plays into my San Diego plans with two long, supported efforts. I had a really good race there last year running a 2:55, placing 4th in my age group and 24th overall. Since it is only six days from Boston, I will try to be very careful not to over do it.

Nutrition

Currently, I am experimenting with super-starches like Vitargo and UCAN. Standard nutrition products like gels and chews spike your blood sugar, which unfortunately, can lead to a crash afterwards. Also, it is quite common for these products to cause gastric distress for many ultra runners. UCAN is supposed to be easy on the stomach and does not spike your blood sugar. Therefore, UCAN is supposed to offer sustained energy. Vitargo on the other hand, is supposed to be digested much faster than gels without gastric distress. This allows you to consume more calories in a given period of time compared to gels. Although Vitargo seems to spike blood sugar, it can be consumed over a period of time (maybe 1-2 hours), whereas for the most part, gels are consumed all at once. Hopefully, this strategy with Vitargo reduces the spike in blood sugar, but also offers sustained energy. Right now, I am thinking of using UCAN pre-workout and using Vitargo during for sustained, high energy. I am hoping to use this strategy for Boston.

I am also experimenting with a post workout recovery mix. In the past, I have never used anything designed for recovery. After a hard or long workout, I have started using Vega Recovery Accelerator.

Finally, one thing I learned from Rocky Raccoon was that I want to rely on aid stations for nutrition. I don't want to carry a pack, because it fatigues core muscles. Therefore, I will either have to rely on a crew or aid stations for nutrition. For San Diego, I will most likely not have a crew, and the aid stations will be serving Tailwind. Although I have used it in the past, I want to start regularly training with Tailwind to get used to it. I will probably take the Tailwind Challenge, which offers four large bags at 10% off to train with and will refund your race fee if you don't like it. Although I have just started to use it regularly, I like Tailwind, especially because it offers calories, hydration and electrolytes all in one mix. So you don't have to constantly manage calories, hydration and electrolytes from three different sources.

Please note, I am in no way qualified to speak about nutrition scientifically. This is just the information I have gathered from other runners and online resources. As I try these products, I will report back on my experience. Finally, I am in no way sponsored or affiliated with any of these products either.

Recent Training Weeks (post Rocky Raccoon)

2/10/2013 - Total: 43.3 miles at 8:25 average pace with 4,236ft gain

I did a couple really short runs the week after Rocky Raccoon, just to keep moving. I find I recover quicker if I keep moving and stay active even if it is running super slow. I tried to take it easy this week, but had a really nice 16.5 mile run with 3,400ft of climbing in Marin Saturday. This run felt really good, and I was able to finish strong. It felt great to run in Marin again after spending eight weeks in Chicago and to catch up with the San Francisco Running Company (SFRC and awesome running store in Marin County, CA). There is an awesome running community surrounding the store, which I am proud to be a part of.

2/17/2013 - Total - 61.9 miles  and 7,300ft gain

Pretty standard weekdays in which I just ran to and from work, which is about five miles each way. For the weekend, I did back-to-back longer runs with a lot of hills. Saturday, I ran with the SFRC again, and we did 14 miles with 2,300ft of gain. Sunday, I climbed to Vollmer Park in Berkeley's Tilden Park for 15.4 miles and 3,000ft of gain. The back-to-backs felt good, which I was very happy about, and I probably felt stronger Sunday. Saturday was a hard effort as we averaged under 8-minute pace, which was tough will all the climbing. I wanted to finish my Vollmer Park run in 2:15, but I had to really fly on the last downhill to finish with 10s to spare! Starting to get my climbing legs back!

2/24/2014 - Total 68.6 miles and 8,000 ft gain

Again, pretty standard weekdays commuting to and from work, but I added some more climbing in the Berkeley hills. The weekend was similar to last week too since I ran with the SFRC Saturday and climbed Vollmer Peak Sunday. The SFRC run was another harder effort with 15 miles and 2,800ft of climbing at 8:14 pace. I finished pretty strong, though. Sunday's Vollmer Peak run was a tough one since it was pouring rain and very muddy. However, I was only five minutes slower than last week.

3/3/2014 - Total 76.3 miles and 7,900 ft gain

During the week, I didn't feel that great, so I took it easy Thursday and Friday. However, I felt really strong over the weekend. Again, I ran with the SFRC Saturday and Vollmer Peak Sunday. I was only 2.5 minutes slower that my Vollmer Peak round-trip PB, even after Saturday's 20 mile effort with 3,400ft of gain in Marin. I am feeling really strong right now. Next week will be a recovery week for me, and therefore, I will shoot for 50 miles with much less climbing.

I have been using Tailwind (one 100 calorie serving) to fuel my long runs without any additional gels or salt. Although 15 - 20 miles is not super long, I like the taste and it has been working well. I am trying to promote fat burning by limiting my carb intake before and during my run.

I hope to post again towards the end of the month, especially if I do decide to run Oakland, to provide an update on my plan for Boston, San Diego and possibly, nutrition results. Also, I usually don't run with my phone or camera, but to add some color, I will start to run with my phone to provide some nice Bay Area scenery to my posts.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Rocky Raccoon 100M - 2/1/14

Summary
Long story short, I unfortunately dropped out of Rocky Raccoon at mile 80. The biggest obstacle to overcome was the heat and humidity. I spent the eight weeks prior to the race in Chicago, which is currently experiencing one hell of a winter. During those eight weeks, Chicago received a lot of snow. Even worse, it was dangerously cold, with daily wind chills consistently well below zero, and a day whose wind chill was -46F. Of the 50 days I spent in Chicago, I feel reasonably confident that less than five days reached temperatures above 25F, not including the wind chill. Needless to say, temperatures in the mid 60s and over 90% humidity was quite a shock to my system on race day. I battled cramps and swelling all day and stomach issues for most of the day. Around mile 65, my left hamstring became really tight causing some nasty knee pain, which was very difficult to run on and forced me to walk. Although I completed the 80 miles in 17.5 hours and had ample time to walk it in, maybe even sub 24, I did not want to finish that way. I also did not realize my crewing brother needed to get back to Texas A&M to finish some homework due Monday. I did not want him to have to stay up another 24 hours finishing homework, just after crewing me for 24 hours. So for a number of reasons, the most logical decision seemed to drop. I am hoping to learn more from the drop than I would have if I walked it in. In the past, I have had the attitude finishing is the most important thing, however, with all the joy at the finish, you may inevitably forget many of the lessons that should be learned. The finish rate was 57%, which is the lowest in the 20+ years of the race. There is no doubt that the temperature and humidity was brutal out there, especially for anyone coming from winter climates. The conditions caused numerous people to drop, from the front to the back. Congrats to everyone who gave it their best! Already planning for revenge in 2015!

Reflections 
I have thought about this race a lot in the week after. Constantly, I have gone back and forth on whether I should have dropped. After all, it is my first drop in an ultra and only my second overall. At mile 80, it was very difficult to run and quite painful. Sure, things could have loosened up, and maybe I could have ran/walked the last loop in 5 hours to come in around 23 hours overall. Or, maybe I could have tripped on one of the many, many rocks or roots and made things even worse, jeopardizing Boston. Both scenarios played in my head before I made the final decision. If I would have been by myself, without a crew, I think I would have headed back out. However, a tipping point in my decision was that my brother needed to get back home to finish homework, and I didn't want to negatively impact his school work. Although, he assured me I could go back out and he would have no problem with it, I didn't need much of an excuse to call it a day, especially in those conditions. He also asked me, "what do I have to prove by walking it in and I can always comeback next year," and just like that I rationalized the drop and was done. Again, I did not want to finish under those terms, and either way, I would be out for revenge next year.

I also thought I needed to force myself to learn some lessons, specifically about the balance between training and racing. Had I completed the race, the joy and excitement at the finish could have easily hidden the fact that my 2013 race schedule was far too ambitious. After all, had I finished, I would have survived the crazy schedule, albeit there were some really rough races in the bunch. In that case, I don't think I would have continued piling on the ultras, but it certainly wouldn't have been so obvious I needed a break. In 2013, I raced nearly 700 miles, all marathons or more except one half, and a month into 2014, I was going after another 100 miler. Also, as in my previous race reports, I was constantly battling some injury for the last three months of 2013. All things considered, the DNF leaves a really sour taste in my mouth, and it is brutally obvious I need to regroup. In a previous post, I mentioned I don't have the discipline to run a training race. So by racing all the time, I was not gaining any fitness because I was constantly alternating between racing and recovery. Sure, this all seems obvious, but a year ago, I was the only crazy ultra runner I knew and was still getting acquainted with California trails. The races seemed to be the best way for me to meet like minded people and experience new trails. Also, as a side note, I am completely self-coached (coached is probably the wrong word), and I run solely to have fun, not necessarily to compete. However, I have absolutely no regrets. I learned so many new trails in California, met a ton of great people and had a blast doing it. In the future, I will have plenty of friends to join and places to go for a fun 30 mile training run, instead of a 50k race. I can't wait.   

Finally, I have thought more about "what do I have to prove?" I have run a hundred before, I have proved I can complete the distance. However, with this reasoning, I would never race a distance twice. A 100 miles is far, really far, and it does not matter if it is Hardrock or 400 laps around an indoor track. Although I have only completed the distance twice, there are always a ton of questions going into the race and many are race specific. Any small hiccup in nutrition, gear, weather or the dozens of other factors will be exponentially worse as the miles go by, which is something that really separates 100s from even 50s. Any minor problem could reduce your pace to a crawl or even worse, land you in the medical tent. My point is, each race will provide different obstacles to overcome, and for my Rocky Raccoon, it was the weather. Sometimes you nail nutrition, but you could have horrible blisters or busted toenails. Since every race is unique, there is always something to prove in the end. Even when I go back next year, it will be a new set of circumstances, and I can never truly redeem myself. Now, I don't mean we should push to the bitter end, that would be foolish. However, before you drop, really think about it. If you are in severe physical pain and can't walk, dropping is probably best. In my case, I could have walked it in, but I just didn't want to. I mentally rationalized excuses, some where good ones, to justify the drop and ease the moment. However, easing the moment, might not be best in the long term. In my defense though, you don't know what a DNF feels like until you DNF (my first DNF was obvious due to Achilles issues). In the end, I am just trying not to regret anything, just learn from the experience. Now that I know the feeling, it will make the decision easier in the future, I hope anyway.

Lessons Learned
1. Pack/Aid Stations - I wore a Salomon belt to carry gels, salt and small bags of Tailwind. In the past, I have also worn an AK Race Vest, and in both cases, I have relied on handheld bottles for fluids. After 40 miles, the pack was getting annoying and also causing some muscle soreness in my core. No design flaw or anything, I just did not want to wear it anymore. I have complained about this in the past, and since then, I have done more core work, which I noticed improvements. However, it was definitely bugging me at Rocky Raccoon, maybe due to the heat. I ended up leaving the pack after 40 miles and felt much better. In the future, I will rely on the aid stations or crew for nutrition assuming the aid stations are not too far apart. My handheld bottle has a good size pocket, which can easily carry salt and three gels. This should be plenty of storage for up to seven miles assuming I am not walking too much. If I have two bottles, I should be good for ten or eleven miles. 

2. Training - Obvious, but if you are always racing, you won't make much fitness progress unless you have the discipline not to go at a race effort. Unfortunately, I don't have that discipline yet. I am looking forward to proper training cycles to increase my fitness for a goal race and then recover. I have said this before, but I hope the DNF drives this message home. 

3. Climate - Drastic climate changes can be really tough, especially from really cold to hot and humid. Again, obvious, but my first experience with it. I spent eight weeks in frigid Chicago, where temps were consistently below zero. In Huntsville, it was 70s and 90% humidity, which was an enormous shock to my system. It was very apparent in the other runners as well. How you were holding up in the humidity was usually the first thing to talk about between runners. However, I think going from hot to cold can be beneficial in some cases, and I have read heat training can give similar benefits as altitude training. 

4. Walking out of Aid Stations - I really liked this strategy, especially for a quick break and time to digest some calories. I would run into the aid station, grab whatever I needed and walk out, almost never stopping. As I left, I would walk as I ate, even though it would take me well past the aid station. It was a great way to enjoy the food and take a quick break from running. Although I dropped, I could see this as a strategic forced break to save your legs and prevent you from sitting at an aid station.

5. 100 miles is Far - There are no easy 100s. It doesn't matter how flat or mountainous, 100 miles, by foot, is a long way. 

Race Report 
We left College Station, TX about 3:30am and arrived at the start around 4:30am. I grabbed my bib, went to the bathroom, packed my race belt and went over the final details with my brother, who would crew for me. He was allowed at all the aid stations except Dam Nation. For each 20 mile loop, I would see him at the start/finish and around miles 3 and 15. They also did not allow cars to park at the aid stations, so he would bike back and forth. 

Eventually 6am rolled around, and we went off. Initially, I was running with a good size group until the first aid station. This was my first time on these trails, and I was surprised how many roots there were. It was very easy to trip, and I saw numerous people wipe out. The first lap was fairly uneventful for me as I became more acquainted with the trails. The aid stations appeared very well stocked and enthusiastic. I really enjoyed the nice views along Raven Lake and the levee. Even before the sun rise, it was apparent the humidity would be one of the toughest obstacles for me. I was soaking wet in sweat after just an hour or two at an easy pace.

My stomach was really bothering me from miles 10 to 15. It was some bad side cramps that I think were due to the heat and humidity, and eventually I was saved by the portable toilets just before the last aid station. Eventually, I finished the first loop in 3:05, and replenished my bottles and supply of gels at the start before heading back out there. 

Next, I finished the second loop in about 3:15 and started the third loop at about 6:30, gun time. The third loop was tough. The humidity was really slowing me down, and I could definitely feel the fatigue in my legs building up. I decided to take a little more time at the aid stations and walk for a few minutes after I left to eat and digest some calories. I really liked this strategy rather than eating on the run. I completed the third loop in 4.5 hours, drastically slower than the previous two. During the second and third loop, I could feel cramps in my glutes, and I stopped at park benches to stretch, which really helped. Unfortunately, the stretching was less and less effective and I was doing so more and more often as the day went on. 

After 11 hours, I had finished 3 loops or 60 miles, but I was in somewhat rough shape. Although I was taking salt, I was cramping up. Maybe I needed to take more, but I did not want to over do it, especially because I noticed my fingers were slightly swollen. I tried not to take more than the equivalent of 2 tablets per hour, however that was difficult to gauge once I started eating solid food.

For the fourth loop, everything got worse, and my left knee started to really bother me, which seemed to be from a really tight hamstring. I tried stretching and continued with the salt, but I couldn't quite figure it out. It was really painful to run on, and therefore, I was forced to walk most of the fourth loop. I finished in about 6 hours. At this point, I was at mile 80, 17.5 or so hours into the race and it was just about midnight. My knee was killing me, and now it was dark. I was severely lacking motivation to continue. I did not want to make my knee any worse and jeopardize Boston. My brother conveniently informed me that he had homework due Monday. After playing out different scenarios, it came down to either continue without my brother as crew so he could sleep in the car or drop and head back to College Station now. I don't blame my brother at all, it was his first time at any running race, period, so he had no idea how things would go if not according to plan. If anything, it was my fault for not informing him. I did not want my brother's school work to suffer because of the race. Then, he told me, "you have nothing to prove," and in my weak mental state, I agreed and was done. I could have finished, however, I could have tripped on a root and made matters much worse. You never know. Even if I had walked it in, I would be out for revenge next year. Ten days later and my legs are feeling pretty good, and I am excited to start training for Boston. 

Friday, December 20, 2013

North Face 50 Mile in San Francisco - 12/7/2013


Summary
The North Face 50 Mile Championship in San Francisco proved to be one of my most difficult races. I woke up race morning with a terrible sore throat and miserable congestion. I thought for a second about not running, but I really wanted to run considering the stacked field of runners. The temperature was uncharacteristically cold, which didn't help, but I made it to the 5am start. I battled through my cold and ran a great first half all things considered. I ran the first 25 miles in four hours, but soon after my race unraveled. My cold got worse, and my legs were battling fatigue from Rio del Lago and The Berkeley Half Marathon, both were within the month prior. I did great on most the downhills, but the uphills really got me. Unfortunately, my pace was reduced to a crawl for the last 10 miles. I strongly considered dropping because I did not want to walk it in, but I continued to grind it out to finish in just under 10.5 hours. It was a really rough day for me, and I am looking forward to taking a couple weeks off from running to recover both physically and mentally.

Reflections
Due to my cold and some lingering fatigue, this race was one of the most difficult for me to complete. I am really glad I finished and certainly do not regret walking at least ten miles of the last twelve miles. Physically, my body was destroyed, but I also lacked the mental strength to push when my body said no. I took whatever my body gave me for the day, even though it was rather disappointing. With this philosophy, I realized that eventually it will not get me to the finish line or it will not be worth walking it in and this is perfectly fine. Sometimes, you just need to accept it wasn't your day, learn from it and move on. Whenever my first ultra DNF comes, I will accept it, not as failure, but as a learning experience. There is always something to learn, especially from a race that does not go as planned, to improve upon next time. In the crazy world of ultra running, you will never stop learning, and to me, that is one of the most appealing aspects of the sport.

Lessons Learned
1. Racing too often - I definitely did not anticipate a long recovery from the Berkeley Half Marathon two weeks prior. I went as hard as I could and even ran a PR, but it took more than a week for my legs to feel normal. There is no doubt in my mind my legs were not ready for a hard, hilly 50 miles. I thought the half marathon would be some nice speed work, but it took a lot out of me, probably in part because I have done very little speed work this year. Next year, instead of racing one or two times a month, I am going to pick a couple focus races to properly train and recover from. I'd like to think I can go into a race treating it as a training run and not go all out, but I proved I don't have the discipline just yet. So for 2014, I am going to pick four or five races, which will hopefully allow proper training and recovery cycles.

2. DNF - Although I did finish the race, I am more accepting of my eventual first ultra DNF. There is definitely something to be said for pushing past adversity and grinding it out to the finish, but I don't think anyone wants to finish just because they have enough time just to walk it in. Although, I ran the last mile, I basically crawled for the ten miles before that. Next time, I will probably drop rather than finish at all costs, especially because my cold got much, much worse in the days after. In hindsight, it probably wasn't worth it.

Race Report
The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile Championship in San Francisco is held in beautiful Marin County, California, which is only about 15 miles from Berkeley. I try to run in Marin once or twice a week, so I am very familiar with the course. I knew it was going to be tough with over 9,000 feet of gain.

About a month before, I ran the Rio del Lago 100 miler, and two weeks prior I ran the inaugural Berkeley Half Marathon. I thought I recovered quickly from Rio del Lago and also thought the Berkeley half would be a nice and short speed workout. I went as hard as I could in Berkeley setting a new PR with a 1:22. However, my hamstrings were really sore for at least a week afterwards. I have done very little speed work this year because I focused on the longer 100 milers, which I think lead to my slow recovery. In hindsight, this was a bad idea. I ran Berkeley without fully recovering from Rio del Lago, and then ran North Face without fully recovering from both Rio del Lago and Berkeley. In addition, I had a big work deadline the Thursday before North Face, and unfortunately, this led to little sleep and a lot of stress the week before the race. I think all of these factors set me up for a really rough day in which I would learn first hand that I bit off more than I could chew.

Race morning I woke up at 3am with a miserable sore throat and congestion. Thankfully, it was all above the neck so I thought I could at least start the race. The week before the race was very cold in SF with overnight lows in the 30s, which is very cold for the area. I think the combination of the unusual cold weather, lack of sleep and stress led to me feeling awful a few hours before the 5am start. Originally, I had a goal of 7:30 to 8 hours, which would have been a very respectable time on such a difficult course, but I thought it was entirely within my abilities. Although, a much easier course, I ran a 7:20 at American River, but had a terrible last 10 miles. I felt in better shape for North Face and was ready for all the climbing. However, these time goals went out the window when I woke up.

I arrived to the start about 4am and saw many elite runners. It was a stacked field, which included all but a couple elite American runners and a very strong international field. It was cold with temperatures probably in the high 30s. Even though I was sick, I wanted to give it a good effort since this was one of the most anticipated races of the year.

At 5:03 we left the start and headed up Bobcat, which I have climbed many, many times. I felt OK, but I could tell I didn't have my legs on the climb. I ran the entire hill and then proceeded back down to Rodeo Beach to the first aid station at about mile 5. Honestly, I started to feel a bit better and was giving it a good effort. I flew threw the aid station and was about to head up Miwok. Again, I ran the entire climb and then headed down to Tennessee Valley around mile 8, refilled my bottle and was head up Coastal to Pirates Cove. At this point, I was pretty much all alone, but I was enjoying myself as the sun started to rise over the east bay hills. I stopped to hike for the first time for some of the steep portions of Coastal, but I felt strong and motivated. Soon I made it to Pirates Cove, which is my favorite trail in Marin, just as the sun was rising. It was awesome and a unique perspective, which reminded me of my last lap at the Headlands 100. I still felt strong as I made my way down to Muir Beach at mile 12.7, and I felt I was doing great for fueling and hydration. I was drinking the sports drink and taking about 2 gels an hour.

By now, the sun had risen and I headed north towards Cardiac, which would be the longest climb of the day. I ran the entire climb to the Cardiac aid station at mile 17.9, and I continued to hydrate and fuel. However, after the fact, I felt that climb took a lot out of me, and I began to struggle a bit with my head cold as I think it was getting a bit worse now. The next five mile stretch to the McKennan Glutch aid station would prove to be my first low point. It was windy and cold, which made me feel weak and fragile. I fell on a narrow section of trail as the ground gave way underneath me. At this point, things went from bad to worse. My cold and congestion was getting worse, I was freezing and I started to notice the fatigue from the Berkeley Half and Rio del Lago. This portion of the course was a three or four mile out and back, so we had to constantly jump off the very narrow trail to avoid colliding with the elites. They were flying, and I could not believe how fast they were going. I was in awe, but this made it hard to get in a rhythm and establish a pace.

After McKennan Gulch, the course headed down to Stinson Beach at mile 27. I completed the first 25 miles in under 4 hours, which I thought was great all things considered. I ran the entire way down to the beach and actually felt a burst of energy as the temperature started to warm up. For most of the day, I ran great downhill, but the climbs just seemed to take a lot out of me. I even passed Rory Bosio, who shattered the women's record this year at UTMB. As we descended to the beach, I thought I really turned things around and even considered a sub 8-hour finish, but unfortunately, it didn't last too much longer.

I power hiked most of the climb out of Stinson Beach to Cardiac on the famous Dipsea trail. I rolled into Cardiac for the second time at mile 30.4, but noticed everything seemed to be getting worse. I couldn't seem to climb a hill if my life depended on it and my cold seemed to be getting worse. It was a strange day since I seemed to alternate feeling good and bad. I knew it was going to be a rough 20 miles to the finish. However, the next six miles were mostly downhill, and I did great as we ran thru the redwood forest and crossed numerous bridges made from fallen trees. This portion of the course is really nice. Once things flattened out though, I struggled to keep running. Next, was a flat five or six mile stretch to Muir Beach, where my legs felt like lead weights and my glutes started to cramp up. It was a grind to say the least. I tried to follow my friend Dario to the Muir Beach, but could not quite keep up. Finally, I made it to Muir Beach at mile 40, but I was absolutely dreading the next climb up Coyote Ridge.

I did my best to hike this climb, but I was crawling. I felt miserable. If I had anything left, this climb took it all. Numerous people passed me and noticed I wasn't feeling great. Most of them asked if I needed anything, which was really nice. I am always amazed by the generosity of the ultra community. I struggled all the way to the top, and by the time I was there, I was hurting, big time. My legs and glutes were killing me, and I was mentally fried. I strongly considered dropping at Tennessee Valley, which was mile 44. Basically, I did not want to finish under these circumstances walking it in, and I knew I would be walking almost the entire six miles to the finish. I walked pretty much the entire downhill to the Tennessee Valley aid station. My body was toast. Once I finally got to the aid station, I sat down for a few minutes an had some soup. Even though I was confident I would drop out here, it never crossed my mind once I arrived and after 10 minutes or so, I was headed up Marincello to the finish.

I walked pretty much every step of the last 6 miles except for the last mile, which I ran. My cold progressively got worse, my legs continued to cramp and now it was getting cold as the sun started to set. It was brutal. I was definitely paying the price for racing so much this fall without recovery. I ran the last mile to the finish to come in just under 10.5 hours. Sure, I am glad I finished and avoided my first ultra DNF, but it was a miserable day for me. Once I finished, I learned Dakota Jones finished in 9.5 hours with the flu. I give him a lot of credit for grinding it out when most would not have started, and this makes me glad I grinded it out to the finish as well. There is definitely something to be said for taking whatever the day gives you and finishing. With this perspective, I will just think of this race as training to suffer.

The scenery was beautiful though, and no matter how much I run in Marin, I never get sick of the views. It has got to be one of the best places to run in the country. The course boasts a lot of diversity from gorgeous coastal views to secluded redwood forests.

I will take a few weeks off from running and recover with my family in Chicago for the holidays, but I will be anxious to get back to the bay area and start training for Boston.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Berkeley Half Marathon - 11/24/2013


Summary
I have not raced a half marathon since April 2012, which I ran a 1:29:58 in San Francisco. The Berkeley Half Marathon start and finish were only a few miles from my house so I figured why not. It turned out to be a perfect day for running with temps in the low 50s at the start and clear skies. The race starts in downtown Berkeley, goes down University Avenue, runs on the SF Bay Trail along the shoreline and throughout the Berkeley Marina before finishing at Golden Gate Fields, which is also along the east bay shoreline. The course was marketed as being very fast since it was all downhill from the start to the marina and was pretty much flat after that, except for a nasty little hill just before the finish. I ran well, finishing in 1:22:11, and was really excited considering I have done very little speed work all year and ran the Rio del Lago 100 just two weeks before. The course had five or six 180-degree turnarounds, which were kind of annoying, especially the last two, which I thought were unnecessary. Overall though, it is a nice course with great views, and I would definitely run it again next year.

Reflections
I don't really have much to say here. The race was a blur, and it was a grind from start to finish. Ultra running, especially 100 milers, doesn't make you faster, but it teaches you how to suffer and gave me a lot of confidence. Although it was a very different kind of pain and discomfort, you learn to embrace it either way and realize if it were easy, everyone would be right there with you. Knowing that I finished Rio del Lago, against all odds, gave me a lot confidence to keep pushing hard to the end and not to give up. Also, I’ll admit I was a little cocky and told myself I wasn’t going to let a half marathon get the best of me. I didn't think I would say this, but I am really excited to start speed training again and would like to run another half next year. I constantly tell people it doesn’t matter how far you have run, a fast 5k or marathon is damn hard. The Berkeley Half reminded me of this fact.  

Lessons Learned
1. Warm-up - For most ultras, you don't need to worry about warming-up before the race. Since the race is so long, you have plenty of time to warm-up in the first few miles. Generally, this is not a problem because a well-executed race, regardless of time or ability, is achieved by not fading deep into the race and not how fast you go out. However, for shorter distances, those first few miles are crucial because you want to establish your pace and don't have a lot time to make up for a slow start. I didn't do much to warm-up before the race, and I thought it took me a few miles to find my rhythm and establish my pace. I don't think it cost me a lot time, but if you take out the 180-degree turnarounds along with a proper warm-up, and maybe I could have gone sub 1:20, you never know.

2. Ultras - For most of the year, my training has been solely focused on the 100 milers. So 90% of my training has been long and slow with the occasional hard effort when I felt like pushing it. I have not done any intervals, threshold or V02 max training at all. About a year ago, I ran a 2:52 marathon at CIM 2012, which according to McMillan, gives me a 1:22 half. Both CIM and Berkeley are reasonably similar courses. Although I have not become any faster according to McMillan, I have maintained my speed, which is great news. A lot of elite ultra runners, who have not stepped up to 100 miles, are very hesitant because they worry about losing their speed. Of course, I am not nearly as fast as them, but this was something I was definitely thinking about since I do have aspirations to run a faster marathon (Boston 2014!!). 

3. Pain - Running at a high effort for a long time isn't easy and it doesn't matter how fast you are. Eventually, you are going to want to slow down. However, after running various races of 50 or more miles, I feel like I am mentally much stronger and can better cope with discomfort. Just knowing there was less than 10 miles to the finish line was great, and I knew the faster I run now, the quicker I'll finish, which is not necessarily true for an ultra.

Race Report
At the start of the race, I talked to Jorge Maravilla, who I run with a lot in Marin and also noticed Ian Sharman and Devon Yanko. I don't remember much about the race; it was a blur like I said. I remember the start, talking to some friends, and then I ran as hard as I could for 1:22 and it was over. The pace was fast from the start and rightfully so, there were a lot of fast runners. I tried to establish my pace, but it was difficult to find a rhythm and someone to latch onto. In the beginning, I was running with a group that constantly saw people fall off the pace. Eventually, I was running alone for most of the second half and even managed to pass a few people towards the end. I felt on the edge of blowing up the whole time as it was a hard effort from the start, but I ran consistent the entire race. My fastest mile was mile 2 at 5:57 and my slowest mile was mile 9 at 6:22. I took a single espresso Clif shot at mile 7 and had a few cups of electrolyte drink along the way.

Annoyingly, there were five or six 180-degree turnarounds, but the views were nice along the bay so I tried not to let it bother me. However, I believe all these turnarounds added about 30 seconds overall. I don't mean to complain, but the last two at the end seemed very unnecessary since they were about 100 feet apart. I felt I was waiting in line at an amusement park. It was a little windy along the bay, but it could have been much, much worse. I run the bay trail all the time, and sometimes the wind is two or three times stronger. The sun was out with crystal clear skies and gorgeous views of the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, Bay Bridge and Marin. 

There was a nasty hill about a quarter-mile from the finish. By ultra standards it doesn't even register and might as well be flat, but 13 miles into a hard effort, it was torture. Thankfully, the finish line was near and it was over. I told another runner about 100 feet from the finish I'd race him, and we did, but I think he got me by a hair. I lay on the ground for about five minutes and then made my way over for a free massage (thanks Lauren!). All in all, a great day, and I am very happy with my effort and a new PR. 

Huge congratulations to Jorge, with an impressive 2nd place and 1:09 finish!! Did I mention he did 18 miles in Marin the day before!!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Welcome

Welcome!! My name is John Finn, but I usually go by Jack among friends and family. I started this blog to share my running adventures. Trail and mountain running is my passion, and I have run various ultra marathons in Northern California from 50k to 100 miles. Although, I much prefer the trails, I also enjoy road marathons and have run various races in California and the Midwest. I know there are a lot of running blogs out there, but I thought I could offer a unique perspective on the sport. I would not consider myself an elite runner nor a mid-packer. I am somewhere in the middle, and since I am only 26, I feel my best years are ahead of me as I aspire to be more competitive. I hope by publishing this journey, it is interesting and helpful to all that follow.

I have written race reports for all my previous races, but have not published them until now. I am currently in the process of editing and posting them so stayed tuned! I also want to offer a unique style to my race reports. When I read a race report, I often get bored or lose interest in mile-by-mile posts explaining every detail. Although I write them myself, I want to follow a format offering a summary, reflections, lessons learned in addition to the detailed report. In a typical race report, I prefer to skip all the details to read about meaning behind a race and the lessons learned. I hope this structure makes it easy to read what is most interesting to you.

Thanks for visiting, and I hope you enjoy my posts! Stay tuned as I upload my past race reports.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Rio del Lago - 11/9/2013


Summary
Going into the race, I was worried about my recent ankle/Achilles injury, which flared up about a month prior, and I did not have a lot of confidence I would finish. I was forced to take two weeks off from running four weeks before the race and eased back into it the two weeks just before. Despite the injury, I was upbeat and planned to take whatever my body was willing to give for the day. Aside from my ankle, my body was well rested and ready to run. I felt great for the first 50 miles, and my ankle was not an issue. However my hydration and nutrition started to suffer, which primed me for an epic low from mile 65 to the aid station at mile 74. Mentally, I accepted failure and was ready to drop. Not only did I not want to run anymore, I didn't think it was safe to continue, especially alone. However, Viv and my friend Paul at the aid station would not let me quit, instead, they let me sleep for about 30 minutes and gave me plenty of chicken noodle soup. An hour later, I was back in business and motivated to at least continue to the next aid station. I battled blisters, broken toenails, fatigue, sleepiness, stomach issues, cold and countless mental demons, but with the help of some great people, I came out of it and battled all the way to the finish in 23:42:30 for my second silver buckle. A lot of lessons learned and even relearned in this one!

Reflections
This race was much more difficult for me compared to my first 100 at Headlands, which was even a more difficult course. I learned a lot about ultra running and myself. This was the first time I accepted failure in running and had every intention to drop out at mile 74. I felt miserable in every way and was desperately paying the price for going out too hard and letting my nutrition fall behind. I remember crying and saying "this is really hard" a few times around mile 60 as I ran out of water with four miles to the next aid station. Physically, I was in considerable pain, but even worse, I was mentally destroyed and was losing hope with each step. Some people say 100 milers are 90% mental and the other 10% is mental. I was in trouble. I have read about runners coming out of epic lows during a race, but it had never happened to me, and honestly, I saw no way out of this one. Coming out of this low gives me so much confidence for the future. I know first hand, that no matter how bad things get, they can always get better. You may have to force down some food or electrolytes, but it is possible, and knowing that it can happen to you, is a huge confidence builder. 

After my hour break at mile 74, I had to maintain 16-minute miles to preserve a sub-24 hour finish. I was constantly doing the math and pushing hard through painful feet and fatigue, but after my rebound, I was really motivated and was mentally determined to finish strong. I knew I could do it and would finish. This was the same primal feeling I felt at Headlands. I felt I was on a mission, and there was no other option but to keep moving forward, nothing else in my life mattered. Once I hit mile 95, I had 75 minutes, or to maintain a 15:30 pace, for sub-24. I can't really explain the next hour. I felt like an animal, and although I was in a lot of pain, I embraced it. With Paul's help, I ran almost the entire way, even when he would let me walk. I wanted to finish as strong as I could, stronger than at Headlands. About two miles away, I got my first glimpse of the finish line across the levee. This was the only time I got a bit emotional after mile 74. Against all odds, I knew I was going to finish and it would be over soon. Again, just like Headlands, I was incredibly relieved more than anything else. I was running as hard as I could for the last mile, even managing a sub 10 minute pace. I was breathing like I was running a 5-minute mile even though I was running half that speed. I felt primal, uncivilized and more determined than ever before. The pain, fatigue or anything around me did not matter except the finish. I finished the last 5 miles in 57 minutes with 18 minutes to spare. Although I finished 30 minutes slower than Headlands, which is a much more difficult course with twice the elevation gain, this is my most proud running moment after overcoming such adversity.

Lessons Learned
1. Hydration - No one is perfect, and sometimes we don't always learn from our past mistakes and are force to relearn them. Well, this was definitely the case for me.  Even for a 100k or 50M race, I plan on running almost the entire course, which generally means the aid stations are no more than an hour apart. This is perfect for one handheld bottle since I generally try to consume about 20oz of fluid per hour. However, in a 100 miler it is hard to avoid some hiking, especially late in the race. As I learned at Headlands 100, when you start hiking the time between aid stations can be twice as long, which requires twice as much fluid. At the mile 54.6 aid station, there was 7.4 miles to the next aid station, and I only had one 20oz bottle. Unfortunately, I was doing a considerable amount of hiking at this point. I ran out of water about 4 miles from the aid station. In my fragile state of mind, I decided to reduce my fuel and electrolyte intake because I thought it would increase my thirst. Turns out, this was also a bad idea, and I believe was the main contributor, along with dehydration, to my epic bonk at mile 74. Next time, I must either carry two bottles or have an extra in a drop bag for late in the race. I will not let myself think otherwise. Also, I think in a 100 miler, you should never stop eating when your stomach is accepting calories.

2. Fuel - Quite simply, I didn't eat enough. In a 100 miler, you need to get as many calories as your stomach will allow. I was consuming between 200 - 300 calories per hour in the beginning. About half was from Tailwind electrolyte drink and the other half was from gels. As the race went on, I consumed less. I also experienced this in Headlands, where I think I was unconsciously eating less because I didn't want to eat and my stomach wasn't great, although it wasn't terrible. As I mentioned in my Headlands report, I need to set reminders to eat on my watch, especially if I go out without a crew or pacer, which I do for nearly all of my races. 

3. Things can always get better - At mile 74, I was ready to drop. I accepted failure and saw no point to continue. Physically, my legs felt like lead weights, stomach was tied in a knot and my feet were killing me with blisters and broken toenails. Mentally, I had no desire to finish anymore. I rolled into the aid station, sat in a chair and told them I was done. Then, I lay down and started to shiver, they gave me three or four blankets and I slept for about 30 min. I thought there was no way I could continue safely to the next aid station five miles ahead. They tried to get me to eat, but I didn't want anything. Finally, I accepted some chicken noodle soup, and immediately, I felt like a new man. I had about six or seven cups of soup, and now felt I could at least make it to the next aid station. I have always read about epic turnarounds in ultras, but I have never experience one until now. I literally came back from the dead. People after the race told me they could not believe I came out of that and still finished in less than 24 hours. They said I was inspirational, and they would remember that in their first 100. This experience gives me an incredible amount of confidence. I know no matter how bad things get, I can always come out of it. 

4. Forced Walking/Hiking - Next time, I will force myself periodic walking/hiking breaks in the beginning, especially between miles 20 and 50. I ran nearly all of the first 50 miles, which definitely didn't help my legs for the last 50. Walking more in the beginning will definitely preserve my legs and may make it easier to eat/drink more as well, which could have prevented my epic low. 

5. Core - Since Headlands, I have done a lot of core work (mostly Pilates), probably about 3 hours a week, and my back did not fatigue at all, even with the pack all day. In Headlands, my back was really fatigued for the last 20 miles or so. My core work paid off, and I did not have to battle a sore back, which was great! Also in the past, my core seemed to be the weakest point when I raced hard as it usually fatigued before my legs. Although my core did fatigue towards the end, like every muscle in my body, I felt it was much later in the race compared to Headlands. Do your core work!!

6. Taper - My ankle injury sidelined me for two weeks four weeks before the race. Then, once I started running again, I eased into it and only ran 60 total miles in the two weeks before the race. For me, this is very little as I averaged over 75 miles per week this year prior to the injury. I think this led me to be over tapered. I went out way too hard for the first half because 8:30s felt super easy. However, halfway thru, I was paying the price. Not only do I think I was over tapered, but due to the low mileage the month before, I don't think my body was ready to be on my feet running for 24 hours. Not that there is much you can do when you are injured a month before a race other than try to recover as soon as possible with time off and low mileage, but you must recognize a fast pace at the beginning is most likely too good to be true, especially for 100 miles. When you realize your current pace is at or faster than your goal before injury, it is time to slow down a bit. 

7. Sleepiness - At Headlands, sleepiness was one of the most difficult barriers to over come. I took two 5 Hour Energy drinks with me this time. I planned to take them late in the race when I got tired. I took one at mile 80 and the other at mile 90, which prevented sleepiness and gave me a burst of energy to continue. Since it is a small amount of fluid, it is easy to take and was easy on my stomach. It might not be as convenient as a caffeine pill, but was a nice alternative. I definitely will have one or the other in future 100s. 

Race Report
I got to the pre-race check-in Friday afternoon to pickup my bib and go through the medical check. They weighed me, and I came in at 165, which seemed crazy since I have not been over 150 in a long time, but I wasn't going to argue the number on the scale. I just figured as long as all the scales were the same it would be OK. In hindsight, I drank a lot of water in the car as I drove from Berkeley to Granite Bay, which was probably a bad idea. 

Going into this race, I was again recovering from an injury, but this was much more serious than my knee/calf issue from Headlands. Early in October, I was sidelined with a bad case of Achilles Tendonitis, which led to my first DNF at mile 4 of the Chicago Marathon. Chicago was about four weeks before Rio del Lago. I took two weeks off from running hoping it would heal in time to get a couple weeks of running before this race. Thankfully, I was more or less pain free after the two weeks rest, but still noticed things were not quite right. As I eased back into running, I accumulated about 60 miles in the two weeks before Rio del Lago. Going into the race, I wasn't sure what was going to happen. I kept considering not even starting because I wanted to be healthy more than anything else, even a buckle. I didn't want to have to make a difficult decision to drop late in the race, nor did I want to prolong this injury any longer than necessary. However, I told myself to just take whatever my body was willing to give for the day. If that is 100 miles, I would be ecstatic, but if it was only 10 miles, at least I tried. 

At 5:00am the gun went off, and I started running across the Folsom Lake Levee at Beale's Point in the dark. My ankle felt OK, definitely a little stiff and I could feel some discomfort if I landed awkwardly, but overall, I was not going to complain. I bought an ankle sleeve the night before for some added support. In the best-case scenario, it would loosen up throughout the day, and I would completely forget about it. Thankfully, most of the Rio del Lago course is very runnable and not too technical so I did not have to worry too much about poor footing. 

At the start, my legs felt great from taking two weeks off and nothing but easier miles for the two weeks before the race. So I ran with the lead pack ticking off 8:30s or so. It felt super easy so I figured why not; I might not even make it 20 miles today anyway. I ran with Ray Sanchez and Chris Wehan, two very accomplished runners. At some point, Chris went ahead, and I believe Ray fell back a bit. I was with two others named Jason and Rich, to round out the top five. Eventually, I pulled ahead of them and was in 2nd place, although, I did not know it at the time. 

No Hands Bridge is no doubt the most famous bridge in ultra running since it is a part of the legendary Western States course. I had never run across it before, so I could not wait to see it. It is in a picturesque location crossing the American River and is called No Hands Bridge because back in the day, it did not have handrails. I got a little emotional as I got my first glimpse of the bridge. I had dreamed my first time crossing it would be during Western States, but I couldn't be more excited to cross it now at Rio del Lago. At this moment, it was a picture-perfect day, and as I crossed the bridge, nothing else mattered, not even the race, as I smiled from ear to ear. I was in awe of the breathtaking views and embraced the moment. I will never forget this feeling, and these feelings are why I run. This was the same feeling the first time I ran across the Golden Gate Bridge. Honestly, there was a part of me just hoping my ankle would hold up long enough to cross it, and when I did, I couldn't be happier. 

This was mile 28, and my ankle did loosen up and felt great all things considered. I still had to be careful of my footing, but I was still running, which was all that mattered. I had been fueling the whole race with the occasional gel, but mostly with Tailwind. At this point, I thought my nutrition was going well, but in hindsight, I wasn't eating enough.

Eventually, I rolled into the Cool Fire Station aid station at mile 31.3, and from here, we would do two, 8-mile Olmstead Loops. I think I was in third at this point. There were no aid stations for the entire loop, and it was starting to get a little warm, but not too bad. Unfortunately, I missed a turn, but it only cost me 10 minutes or so. We did one loop clockwise and the other counter-clockwise. The second loop seemed much faster than the first, which was nice. I started to run out of water towards the end of the second loop, and I realized two bottles would have been nice. Eventually, I came into the Cool Fire Station for the third and final time, and this time, we had to go through our first medical check. I stood on the scale, without my pack, and it read 145, which would indicate I lost 20lbs or 12% of my body weight. This immediately got the attention of the medical personnel. Normally, anything over 7% is reason for concern, and I was nearly double that. However, I told them 165 seemed way too high, and since I clearly showed I was mentally all there, they cleared me to continue. I don't remember if I was still third at this point, but definitely top five. However, my race was about to come crashing down on me in an epic way. 

As I left the Cool Fire Station at mile 47.3, I felt OK and felt much better than expected up to this point. I was motivated to run and felt like nutrition was going well, however, as I said before, in hindsight, I wasn't eating nearly enough. To a lesser extent, I wasn't hydrating enough either. But I was just about halfway and ready to knock this thing out one mile at a time. I made it back to No Hands Bridge, which like the first time was just awesome. There are some things, like the Golden Gate Bridge or No Hands Bridge, that I build up in my mind that have so much meaning to me that I get goose bumps just thinking about them, and I relish the moments when I can experience them first hand.

I slowed down considerably at this point and Erika Lindland, the eventual women's winner, caught me. I talked to her a bit, but I couldn't keep up. I ended up walking most of the climb from No Hands Bridge up the Auburn Dam Overlook, which was mile 54.6, and I noticed the sun was starting to set. This is where things really started going downhill from a nutrition point of view. As I mentioned, I was not eating enough throughout the day, and now it was brutally apparent. Also, my legs were feeling it, and I could feel blisters around my toes and on the bottom of my feet. I also noticed my feet were swelling, and I keep loosening my shoes to help. Unfortunately, I did not realize there was more than 7 miles to the next aid station, and although I filled my bottle, I should have had more to drink at the aid station. Eventually, I ran out of water, and according to my watch I had another 4 miles to go. This was not good, not good at all, and where my race went from a battle to survival. In my now fragile state, both physically and mentally, I remember sitting on a bench for a few minutes thinking about what to do. I guess I realized the only way to water was forward. 

I was dying of thirst. It took every ounce of my energy not to drink from the murky puddles/streams along the trail. To make matters worse, I made the logical decision to stop eating and taking salt because I thought it would increase my thirst. Along with my inadequate fueling from the start, this primed me for an epic bonk, unlike I have ever experience before.

Finally, I got into the next aid station and immediately drank about 40oz of water, but the damage was done. Now it was just about dark, and the next 15 or so miles of trail were rough, known locally as the 'meat grinder' because of their technicality. Struggling to hold a 3 to 1 run/walk ratio, I eventually got into the Rattlesnake Bar aid station. I had 3 or 4 pancakes, and when they asked syrup or jam, I said both! The pancakes tasted great and felt good in my stomach. I grabbed some caffeinated gels and a long-sleeve shirt from my drop back before moving on. I actually had a little burst of energy as I left, but that did not last long. 

The next aid station was Horseshoe Bar (mile 67.5), which was 1.9 miles ahead. I felt good for this short stint, but after I left Horseshoe Bar my world came crashing down. I felt miserable in every way. My feet screamed with every step. Dirt had got into my shoes causing some blisters, and I continued to loosen my shoes as my feet were getting more swollen. My stomach felt miserable, and I didn't want to eat or drink anything. Mentally, I was tired and just wanted to stop. At this point, I was walking pretty much everything and was alone. I remember just saying, "This is really hard," as I did my best not to cry, but I couldn't help it sometimes. I was a wreck in every sense of the word. I was about 2 mile past Horseshoe Bar with about 4 miles to the Granite Bay aid station when Jason came up from behind. We recognized each other and both realized we were paying a heavy price for going out too hard. I told him to continue his pace, and I would do my best to keep up. We didn't talk too much, but the little conversation took my mind off everything else. As we continued, it got more and more difficult to keep up, but I did all the way to the next aid station, Granite Bay at mile 74. Over those four miles, I was so focused on keeping the pace up and since my stomach didn't want anything, I hardly ate anything at all. 

When I got to Granite Bay, I immediately sat down. Instantly, I began to shiver, and I thought I would vomit more than a dozen times. To my surprise, I noticed Paul was there. I told the aid station volunteer Viv and Paul, I wanted to drop and asked for a blanket and bag to vomit in because I didn't think I could get up. Then, I lay down on the ground with three or four blankets and a sleeping bag. I felt miserable, worst than I can ever remember. I was completely convinced my race was over, and I accepted failure. I repeatedly told Viv and Paul I didn't think it was safe for me to continue to the next aid station 5 miles ahead, but they would not let me quit. Then, I asked to at least sleep for 30 minutes. When I woke, they wanted me to eat, but nothing sounded good. Eventually, I thought some warm soup would be nice since I was still wrapped in blankets. They finally convinced me to sit-up in a chair and gave me some soup. It tasted great, like some magic potion, and I couldn't get enough. After six or seven cups of soup, I felt 100% better, and actually contemplated going to at least the aid station, which was the start/finish at mile 78.6. I still didn't think I would finish, but at least I could sleep on a comfortable foam mat in my truck at the start/finish. It took a few steps to loosen up as my body locked up from sitting and sleeping, but I was moving forward.

I left Granite Bay with another runner who felt equally miserable and slept at the aid station too. I crunched the numbers since I had nothing better to do as I moved along, and I had to maintain a 16:30 pace for the last 27 miles to finish in 24 hours. Shockingly, 24 hours was a real possibility. I started feeling much better and motivated, and eventually, I had no intention to drop and was going to finish this race at all costs. Eventually, I crossed the levee and rolled into the start/finish aid station. I grabbed a couple more cups of soup and weighed in at the medical check. At packet pickup, I was 165, at mile 47.3 I was 145, and now at mile 78.6 I was 152. The medical staff was dumbfounded, and slightly hesitant to let me continue, but they could see I was all there mentally. A medical person walked with me out of the aid station to make sure I was OK, and just like that I was going out for the last 22 miles. We had to go back out to Horseshoe Bar thru Granite Bay and back. 

I was alone again, but I was extremely motivated and could not wait to get back to Granite Bay to tell Paul and Viv I was back in business! Eventually, I got back up to Granite Bay and it was great to see everyone there. Paul said he would join me for the last 17 miles, however the next 12 would be thru the meat grinder again. The next 12 miles were pretty rough because the technical trail was killing my feet as I constantly stubbed my toes. We walked most of the way to Horseshoe Bar and back to Granite Bay. My strategy was to go easy on the technical trails and push hard for the last five miles, which were much smoother. So Paul and I talked and took it easy, only running the flat and smooth sections. Eventually we made it back to Granite Bay, with only 4.8 miles to the finish line and about 75 minutes to come in under 24 hours, a 15:30 pace. 

Paul told me I could call him every name in the book as long as I followed his lead. He was going to get me in sub-24 hours at all costs. We ran most of the next five miles, with an occasion 30 sec walking break. As we ran, I was in a lot of pain. My feet were killing me with every step between blisters and broken toenails. I was breathing like I just finish an 800m repeat, but I was struggling to hold 10 minute miles. It didn't matter though; I was going to go sub-24 at all costs. I pushed through the pain and with 2 miles to go, I could see the finish on the other side of the lake. I knew it was almost over. I ran all but 30 seconds or so of the next mile, and now there was just one mile to go. Huffing and puffing like a steam engine, I ran as hard as I could to the finish, completing the last mile in less than 10 minutes. Paul was right there with me at the end, and I could not have done it without him. I hope to return the favor soon!! As I finished, I was relieved more than anything else since it was finally over after 23 hours, 42 minutes and 30 seconds. I could not have been any happier and could not believe I came out of that epic low. I will never forget this race and how I came back. It gives me so much confidence in the future, that no matter how bad things get, they can get better. I owe it to Paul and Viv for believing in me, when I didn't believe in myself.