Sunday, July 6, 2014

Twin Peaks Tempo

Fourth of July morning in between games, I had maybe an hour and a half. I wanted to get in a good hard run but wasn't really in the mood to just run fast back and forth along the waterfront. I looked up at the looming fog, forcing its way over Mount Sutro. Twin Peaks it was.

I rounded Potrero and hung a  left up 17th, a dead straight shot up the mountain. The city was quiet, the holiday not yet in full swing. I eased out through the Mission, across Market and up. I held a steady pace, but didn't go too hard. Up on Clayton I caught some bikers and put in an effort to close the gap. They saw me and wouldn't let it happen. I love catching bikers.

Swinging up onto the mountain, I broke through into the fog and hit the wind. San Francisco muggy, I looked up at the tourists taking in the non-view. I imagined myself up there, looking down on me, marveling at how hard I was working. It urged me on.

I mounted the crests and nearly got blown off, laughing at the people up there leaning into the wind and fog and snapping pictures of the San Francisco summer.

I knelt for a leak and took off. Here was the training I had waited for. As I gained momentum I resolved to take the title for fastest decent. When I started seeing 4-handles, I knew I either had it or that there was one fast mother out there doing the same thing.

Across Portola I kept up the pace, chest heaving and hips twisting, landing softly a challenge. I flipped past Elk and kept falling. Diamond came out of nowhere. I jogged it out, adrenaline still pumping. 

The rest of the run home was a gradual down, weaving in and out of walkers on Mission, the Precita U and past the park, through depravity under the freeway just as mile 10 clicked off I was home. Now that's the way you ring in the 4th.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Race Report: TNF 50k Bear Mountain - So. Many. Rocks.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I underestimated this race, but on paper it shouldn’t have been that hard. Sure, finishing times were slow and I saw the course described as “the hardest 50k in the country,” but pain is quickly forgotten and runners are apt to recall their most recent race as the “hardest ever,” forgetting the same level of pain just months before. The elevation gain wasn’t that bad, the profile and climbs seemed modest and after all, it was upstate New York. How hard could it really be?

As I lay on the ground half-eavesdropping on the 50-mile winner chatting with the masseuse, waiting my turn and surveying damage inflicted on the raw skin of my lower legs, I heard him say “I think that was the hardest 50-mile I’ve ever done.” So there’s that.

I had been running well leading up to the race. No injuries to speak of, a half marathon PR on a not-PR course, and I had finished several long runs feeling strong, including a 33-mile training run with over 7,500ft of elevation gain just two weeks before. If anything, I was worried I had over-trained and under-tapered, but that is an affliction with which I am quite happy to live these days.

I did my best to survey the course ahead of time, scrolling through photos and reading race reports. I even found a local San Francisco runner who finished last year’s race in about my goal time and pinged him for some tips.

So when I toed the line for my second race in New York in the past six months, I felt confident and ready to run. Within a mile, I learned what “technical” really means, and for the third time in as many 50ks this year, resigned myself to the fact that I’d be running the entire race with wet feet. So it goes.

The race kicks off for about 14 miles of gradual climbing with some short descents interspersed. My strategy was simple: take it easy for the first 15, then race it home. I settled in with the lead two women, who literally chatted the entire time I was near them. Impressive. It sounded like they were just out for a training run, and given that they finished together – literally at the same time, I guess they really were.

For the first few miles there were 10-15 runners ahead of me, which was actually a bit further ahead than I had planned on being. As we climbed up out of the second aid station, a group of about six runners pushed past. I let them go. I stayed with the ladies and we wound our way up, scrambling at times, to the ridge and the top.

A bit about the trails on Bear Mountain.

Imagine a trail that isn’t so much dirt as it is rocks. Just rocks. Jagged rocks that range in size from baseballs to watermelons. Then layer on creeks that, as one fellow-runner put it, prefer the trail to their own creek bed. Where it wasn’t wet, leaves had fallen from the trees last fall where they had remained, undisturbed, concealing the rocky terrain below. You’d put your foot down and it would either go left, right, forward or back. If it stuck, it was likely because you mashed down right onto the point of one of the little bastards. Now try to run.

Where the rocks weren’t wet or hidden by leaves, we were running through mud. Mud you sunk into shin-deep. Mud that threatened to suck your shoes off – which it succeeded in doing to more than a few other runners. You could avoid the mud by skirting the edge of the “trail” and crashing through dried bushes that ripped the skin off your calves.

Sometimes, as a respite from the mud and rocks, you’d get to ford a river. For a while I tried to avoid these, rock-hopping across. But as the morning wore on and the temperature rose, dunking my battered feet into refreshingly cool water trumped dancing waterlogged shoes over the rocks, risking a slip and a dunk.

There were perhaps 10 runnable miles on the entire course. And two of them were on pavement which, for the first time in my trail running career, I couldn’t have been more thrilled to see. I’ve never been happier to run on hard, unforgiving, solid ground.

But really all you need to know about these trails is that on a 5-star rating system for "Technical Terrain,", North Face gives the Marin Headlands, including the Dipsea, a two out of five. Bear Mountain got all five.

But despite this so-called “technical” terrain, the first 15 miles were positively enjoyable. I took it easy, ate and drank comfortably, and my legs felt strong. They were tired, but not overly so, when I reached the top and I was happy with my position and how I felt. It was time to race.

Or, do my best to race when keeping anything resembling a reasonable pace was so incredibly difficult. I picked it up and gradually started reeling in the pack of six who had left me at the bottom of the hill. We hit pavement and looped around a lake where I could see a handful of runners ahead of me, stretched out along a gradual upslope into the mile 14 aid station.

What these east coasters had on me technique-wise on their silly not-trail-trails, I had on them on anything even remotely smooth. Cherishing the road, I made up time and eased into the aid station pumped and ready to run.

I took off in tandem with a guy I had seen a while back who seemed to know the trails well. I settled in behind, chatted a bit and hit a long gradual downslope. It was definitely the highlight of the run. The trail was challenging, but not overly rocky. Hopping fallen logs every 50 yards or so, we zigzagged our way through meadows and woods, through creeks and over boulders. We were running, albeit not all that fast. But we were running.

If you let your concentration drift, even for a moment, you’ll eat shit. And eat shit I did, tripping on a rock that seemed to pop out of nowhere. I was down before I could process what happened, but fortunately found a soft spot to fall and popped back up. The guy I was following didn’t notice I had tripped, ear buds blaring.

I eased off just a bit, but more than anything kept my head down and focus aimed at the trail.

Rocks and fallen trees gave way to an actual trail, so I passed my descent partner and another runner we had caught. I had now recaptured all the spots I lost on the descent and set out hunting the group I hadn’t seen since the start. Reveling in the smooth trails, I settled into a comfortable pace and for the next half hour, ran basically alone for the first time all day.

We wove through rolling hills, tracing the flattest path back to the parking lot and the mile 20 aid station. I felt strong and was thrilled to be running, but knew that the toughest miles were yet to come.

At Way Too Cool this year, I forgot to eat starting at about mile 22 and melted down around mile 28. So today I ate. And ate. And ate. I ate early and I ate often. I left every aid station with something in my hand, usually a banana, just like my plan. I ate potatoes and oranges and blocks and Gu. I even found papaya out there, which was amazing. But as the miles wore on, I became more and more parched, finding it harder to force down food. I had the usual bouts with indigestion but dry mouth was my nutrition enemy.

At one point I could only get though half a Picky Bar because my mouth was just too dry to eat and I didn’t want to deploy my entire water bottle to get it down.

I won the nutrition battle though, and never melted down, never bonked.

Rolling out of the Anthony Wayne parking lot with just 10 miles to go, I reveled in pavement once again. I even caught up to two runners who I hadn’t seen since the early miles. Both were walking, which seemed strange on flat ground. I was moving well but not blistering, and I blew past. We had now fully mixed with runners of different distances, but I did notice two blue 50k bibs move past me on the pleasant, winding trails. That’ll teach me to pull over for a piss.

I tried to close the gap but was once again thwarted by rocky trails and poor footing. I was even losing ground on descents, which is a rarity for me.

Miles 23-26 are a blur. I was mostly by myself, and the trail wound through bushes and trees and hills and everything just sort of blended together. I remember short, steep climbs and tricky, rocky descents. I remember fording knee-deep creeks and dancing on tired legs when dirt gave way to those all familiar rocks. I checked my watch more often than I should have, knowing there was an aid station at mile 25.0 and that a mile later we’d summit Timp Pass, a grueling, Goat Hill-esque climb with just a few miles left in the race.

After a few false summits, Timp Pass reared before me. It’s not that tall, maybe a couple hundred feet. And while steep, Goat Hill is far worse. But the footing was characteristically terrible, the temperature seemed to rise 10 degrees and the bugs. Oh the bugs. Swarming my face as I struggled upwards, I hit what was at then time a low point in the race. In crept the thought that every trail runner has at some point in a race, “Why the hell do I do this?”

But at least I was at the top. It was all downhill from here.

The descent was miserable. The worst footing yet, wet, slippery rocks as far as I could see on this glorious downhill that I couldn’t run. I was moving barely faster than a walk and got passed by a guy who just hopped down the trail as if the rocks weren’t there. I tried to speed up but rolled my ankle and almost fell.

So I resigned to just picking my way down, cursing the course and the goddamn rocks. It was my lowest point of the race. Here I was at mile 27, feeling fit and strong, ready to run, and I had to navigate these damn rocks. I fully realize that technical ability is an important part of trail racing, and that I generally have an advantage in technical situations – or what I thought were technical situations – but this was something altogether different.

After what seemed like an hour-long descent, the rocks gave way to actual trail and I pulled into the final aid station. I downed some oranges, chatted with the friendly aid station crew and took off, running. I knew the last mile or so of the course would be technical again as we retraced our steps back to the start/finish, so I ran the smooth trails hard. I had gas in the tank, running the little ups strong and sailing down the flats.

I had been running for almost five hours and was ready to be done, but it was more of a mental exhaustion than a physical one. I was tired of course, and my legs and feet ached, but given actual trails I know I had more miles in me today.

At the mile 25 aid station one of the crew had told me that I was in 11th place, which lifted my spirits. I dropped to 12th when the guy passed me doing down Timp Pass, so was determined to either chase him or someone else down to get back to 11th. Top 10 would be fantastic, but I knew time was winding down and I just wanted to take it one place at a time.

Up ahead I saw my new 11th place target, a guy running with trekking poles. I’m sure they helped, and at times I could have used poles on the tricky footing, but I’m just not sure it would be worth lugging them 30 miles across hill and dale.

I gained ground and when he started walking up a rocky, slippery hill I made my move. Probably a foolish place to pass, but I had energy where I’ve never had energy before and wanted to make the most of it. I went by sloppily, tripping and slipping my way up the rocks, finally slowing to a hike when I had put 10 or 20 yards between us.

The trail topped out and got smooth again. But no sooner than I had started running again when the rocks were back again. 

But before I knew it I was back to the home stretch and gentle, glorious grass that led to the finish line. 5:12 and 11th place. I felt that rush of emotion like my first Way Too Cool, a mix of relief and sadness welling up. Relief that the race is over, that you’re not running any more. Sadness for the exact same reason.

I wandered over to sign up for a post-race massage, retrieved my drop bag and changed out of my soaking shoes and socks while chatting it up with a guy who turned out to have won the 50-mile. Not bad company. A massage, ice bath (amazing post-race amenity by the way), plate of food and a beer and I settled into spectator mode.

Luchi and Miguel finished a couple hours later and with that, my trail racing career in New York had more than likely ground to a halt. I'll take my steep, grueling trails back in California any day. Because at least you get to run.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

San Francisco After Dark

I don't run at night much these days. Sure, every once in a while Maura and I will head out after dark for a moonlit jaunt up Bernal Hill, or I'll skip around Potrero for a quick evening run. But the last real run I went on at night, and it wasn't exactly under the most normal of circumstances, was looking for Abra at last year's Ironman Lake Tahoe.

For whatever reason today, I got the urge to run at night. There wasn't really anything that spurred it. No major decision at work looms where I need crisp fresh air and the sounds of the city to flush out the answer, and I have no pressing dramas at home that would require the quiet contemplation one can only find sailing along alone in the dark. I just knew I wanted to run tonight.

I even sent Maura an email this afternoon saying, "I am in the mood to go on a long run tonight after we get home from the show. Nothing is wrong, but I started thinking about it and its been a while since I ran at night for anything more than a few miles. I may end up changing my mind when we get home, but I wanted to give you the heads up so you don't think I am being weird ;)"

The evening played out as planned, dinner at AirBnB, City Arts and Lectures for a fantastic conversation between Michael Lewis and his wife Tabitha Soren, then a drink with our friends Matthew and Jenn. We didn't get home until almost 11, but at no point did I waver. I would run tonight.

Maura was admittedly a bit miffed. Even though I had mentioned it she figured a couple drinks and an 11pm arrival would knock some sense into me. It did not.

Earlier today I had a mind to run all 25 miles of my city loop. And had I gotten an earlier start I probably would have done it. But I'm going to be in bed after 2am as it is and I'm just not as young as I used to be.

I set off against the hum of the my freeway. Living so close to 101 has forged a close bond between myself and hospital curve, despite the fact that I avoid that terrible stretch of highway at all cost. My legs felt strong, loose, brimming with energy after Sunday's Rock N Roll Half Marathon. The race shot me full of confidence, a perfect dose for the North Face 50k at Bear Mountain in a few weeks.

As I looped out around 3rd Street and Terry Francois, past DogPatch and my aspirational industrial purchases, I plotted a course in my mind. I'd never run all the way up Market, and veering off at 17th would send me into the fog that I had seen rolling into the city hours earlier. Spring, and the fog, have arrived.

I think I know I'm becoming a real runner now that it takes me like four miles to get warmed up. In fact, this evening it took me almost six as I didn't feel great until about Hayes as the gradual incline into the Castro loomed.

The trip up Market is fascinating, particularly since I don't see that part of the city very often these days, The sheer quantity of empty office buildings, most of them under construction, is mind blowing. If this thing goes, its going to get ugly.

I started feeling strong as the incline steepened, past the Gay-Way and up to 17th. I'd never run up to Twin Peaks this way, and looked forward to the steep straight climb. I charged up it, a steady GAP my typical goal.

Looping up towards the top, it was so foggy I couldn't see the signs to Twin Peaks and had to make the turns by reverse memory.

The houses dropped away and I was alone on the unlit road, a drizzle dripping down out of the thick fog. I hustled to the top not wanting to stick around for cars to maybe catch a glimpse of me as they ran me down. I bent around the lookout area the wrong way, past a good half dozen cars, mostly teenagers parking ... ah the good old days when I never did that.

It was real dark and real foggy looping around the peaks. One car come by and I am pretty sure he never saw me.

On the way back down, I high tailed it knowing cars wouldn't see me until it was too late, and there was a halfway decent chance I wouldn't see them either. I kept my ears wide open.

Long, long way looping down O'Shaughnessy, my usual climb slipped away with a steady cruise. I worked not on speed, per se, but efficiency of movement and minimal impact on my tiring legs. We'll see tomorrow whether my legs thing I did a decent job, since I just can't take it easy these days. And I love it.

I hopped over San Jose and into Mission Terrace before cruising down Mission, past Latin trannies outside Club Malibu and hipsters outside the Knockout. I blew by three of our properties, our little La Luenga. Cesar Chavez was over in a flash and I zipped under the freeway since I knew for sure cars wouldn't see me down there. A quick left turn and I was home, 15 miles later.

I need to get some running lights, since that was definitely not my last edition of San Francisco After Dark.



Monday, March 10, 2014

Way Too Cool 50k 2014 -- Race Report: Fun in the Mud

“Careless in our summer clothes, splashing around in the muck and the mire.”
- Hang Me Up To Dry, Cold War Kids

A brilliant springtime sun shone down on Cool as a thousand fools sought 31 miles of soggy feet, mud-splattered legs and sweet, sweet suffering.

I eased towards the front and the fringe of the ultra “scene,” watching racers I knew only by name or by face joke and jeer and get ready to run. A tinge of envy crept into my body as I marveled at those willing and able to dedicate enough of their lives to this crazy sport to be part of the elite.

And while I wasn’t quite part of the gritty crew at the front of the pack, this year I was ready. After my meltdown at mile 20 in the 2013 Way Too Cool, I have spent the better part of the past 12 months training my mind and body for redemption on these trails. I think back to last year and am amazed at how little I knew, how woefully unprepared I was for the time I ended up running. And I paid for it with the most miserable 100 minutes of running in my life.

Luchi and I arrived in Auburn the day before, grabbed our race packets, checked into our hotel and cruised out to Cool to check out the trails. Crimson dirt crunching under my feet, I remembered how smooth and fast these trails are. But less than a half mile into the run we were greeted by the muck and the mire.

An unseasonably warm and rainy past few weeks turned meadows and creeks into a muddy bog. The trail sliced through and creeks which had run up over their shores. I thought back to last month’s 50k in the Headlands where I was soaked the entire way, wind and driving rain for five hours. But there is something different about running the rain (read: awesome) and running in the sun with soggy, heavy feet (read: not nearly as awesome).

After a leisurely dinner and night cap in Auburn, Maura and Jessica arrived and we turned in, alarm set to blare with a 5-handle. I slept terribly, pretty standard pre-race fits of jerking awake to look at the clock, just to realize it had only been an hour since last time I thought I had slept through my alarm.

5:15 finally came and we dragged ourselves into the nippy air, through the hotel parking and past a dozen or so other runners prepping for the 15-minute haul into Cool.

Nor Cal Ultras puts on a generally phenomenal race, but this year they were short on bathrooms and the line wrapped around the parking lot, even at this early hour. And as toilet paper began to run short, I was reminded why arriving early to races is a win-win proposition.

This was Luchi’s first 50k and he was a bit nervous, understandably so. But ultimately his excitement took over and we fist bumped good luck as I trotted off to join the starting line and my aspirational group of elite and semi-elite ultrarunners.

I couldn’t have asked to be better prepared at the starting line: Legs felt good, mind felt good and I had a decent race plan based primarily on correcting my mistakes from last year and having fun. I knew that if I had fun, a better time would follow. In the back of my mind was the past week’s atrocious tapering, which included only one run and 5-nights straight of socializing, crab-feasting and booze. But when my feet launched over the starting line, there wasn’t a thing I could do about it. I could only run.

In the days leading up to a race, I revel in the anticipation. I am reminded that time marches inexorably on and that whether you’re ready or not, the future will eventually become the present. And in that present all the waiting and imagining is wrapped up in the moment. You start running and its happening. There’s nothing left to do but do it.

The first mile of Way Too Cool is notoriously fast, down a gradually sloped road where almost everyone goes out to fast. I settled into a comfortable pace and went by the first mile in just under 6:20. I knew it was too fast, but over the past year my cruising pace has slipped down into this range so I wasn’t alarmed. What alarmed me was the company I kept.

When I recognize you from nothing but your full back tattoo, you’re a real runner. I ran on, listening to the banter of the runners around me catching up, talking goal times and sharing war stories. Those around me were aiming for the 4-hour mark, which is what I had quietly set as my goal time.

We hopped off the road and onto the trail, descending down some fun and technical down hills. The volume of chatter told me that everyone was still warming up, enjoying those first few easy miles before the real race begins.

We were cruising, keeping a great pace through the winding trails. I felt fast and strong, and in these short moments I wandered into a world where I didn’t quite belong, keeping pace with runners I knew were better than me, thousands more miles under their respective belts. It didn’t really occur to me that I should slow down until I heard the following exchange, as the two guys in front of me were discussing a couple very fit-looking women ahead.

“Who’s Caitlin running with up there?”
“That’s Magdalena, Olympic marathoner.”

Oh. Those two ladies finished 1-2, with third place 20 minutes behind.

So I backed it down. Or, put another way, I got dropped.

But for those first few miles, I felt like a real ultra-runner. I wasn’t worried about pace, wasn’t keeping it in third gear because I had 28 miles and 5,000 feet of elevation left to go. I was just running, chasing the guy in front of me, surrounded by some of the most accomplished and fearless ultra-runners in the sport. It was a privilege just to be on the trail with them.

But I was here to have fun, and blowing myself out in the first hour was a sure fire way to have a repeat performance of last year. So I let the pack of elites drift off into the distance. Maybe next year, maybe next year.

My ostensible goal was to come through the first aid station at mile 8 keeping a pace around 7:30-7:45. As the trail wound up and down hills, through creeks and mud pits, the numbers on my watch ticked up towards that mark. I let them go. I chatted with a few friendly runners, including a guy named Andy with whom I would crisscross paths for the rest of the day.

The sun was out, not too warm, not too cold. A bright new day in the pristine foothills and we were the chosen few lucky enough to be out there running through it all.

With the opening loop nearly done, I saw Maura cheering on the right side of the trail. She shouted encouragement and high-fived me as I went past. I stopped at the aid station, grabbed some water and a banana and sped off. With flat then down ahead, I’d load up at mile 11.

Last year I spent the entire race dehydrated. I would fill my water bottle at the aid station then take off without drinking anything. I’d rehydrate from my bottle for the first mile and feel great, but have to ration water until the next aid station. Wash, rinse, repeat.

I cruised down at an even pace, passing where possible but conserving energy. I used to fly on the downs but have become more disciplined, conserving energy while still making hay. Andy flew past me, shouting, “See, I love the downs!”

We popped out across Highway 49 and down the steep gravel path to the American River. What a view, straight upriver with steep canyon slopes on either side. In the distance, you can see the trail wrapping along the bank, the lone truly flat section of the course.

I slid into the aid station and jammed a big potato into the salt bowl. Woah, too much salt. But I’d need it later so I forced it down. I also grabbed some of the Gu they were handing out, that Rocktane stuff which is truly disgusting. I carried it but never touched the stuff. Turns out I should have.

Last year at this point I felt great and ran the river section hard. I hadn’t expected the rollers and blew precious energy in the mid-section of the race. So this year I took the opposite approach and settled into an easy cruising pace on the flats. I still hovered around 7-minute miles but was getting passed rather than the opposite like last year. That was OK, I had my plan and was sticking to it.

As the ups and downs rolled out, I hiked the ups, the only one around me doing it. I was losing ground but I wasn’t worried -- I’d see them on the ridge (or so I thought).

As the trail turned back up towards the ridge and Cool, I settled into a comfortable hiking pace. Still getting passed periodically I fought them temptation to run. I still had juice left, but kept disciplined. There was plenty of up left and I wanted to save it for that ridge trail.

We neared the top and I started getting passed by more runners. The trail flattened out and I started to run, but was pretty gassed. I knew there was an aid station up ahead, so I settled in behind one of the guys who had passed me and we ran evenly towards an aid station that seemed to never come.

It was about this time, mile 20, when I realized the race was on. Here I was at the same place I fell apart last year, starting to fall apart again, starting to make bad decisions. Descending down a trail from which its hard to return.

I snapped myself out of it. I had been waiting for the aid station to take more salt, but what for? I popped the salt and told myself to take control of the race, rather than the other way around. I heard cheers in the distance and said to the guy in front of me “best sound you can hear out here.” He agreed, commending that he could have handled it coming sooner. No doubt.

I swigged some soda, took more water, salt, an orange and jammed potatoes into my food pouch. I felt worlds better and raced off down the hill. Next stop: Goat Hill.

Doing my best to avoid peaking and crashing, I eased into the first half mile or so after the aid station. I didn’t want to blow through all my energy with that gnarly hill yet to come. 

In reflecting on the race, this is where I started to lose it. I’d be OK for the next few miles and even managed to stay hydrated. But I forgot the other element of nutrition, and perhaps the more obvious one: calories. I almost abandoned food. As I reflect on what I did wrong, why I ended up falling apart with a few miles left, I basically forgot to keep eating. It’s truly amazing how such a simple and seemingly obvious thing can just disappear from your consciousness.

I tucked in behind the next runner I came to and when the trail opened up, passed. I took off, racing the gradual down, looking for that wonderful zone where the surroundings blur and instinct takes over. You can’t think your way through this terrain, you have to feel it. I passed perhaps a half dozen runners before starting to feel fatigued.

I once again settled in behind a runner in front of me who was keeping an even pace. I remembered being tortured last year as the trail emerged from the shade into the beating sun, heat soaring up the canyons. It sapped my strength then, it fueled me now. I gritted my teeth and ran through it. 

I passed again and hit the next down in stride. Up ahead I found Andy running tandem with a lady who had passed me by the river, and I called out. Andy said what’s up and as I blew past, said I looked strong. I told him I was faking it. Which was only partly true. I did feel strong, but knew my ups were limited and more than likely would be gassed by the end.

Goat Hill rears straight up after a gradual grade pulls you out of the canyon. Strava sponsored the climb this year with a big orange starting flag at the base. Just before I made the right hand turn up the dizzyingly steep pitch, two ladies leapt past me and took the hill like it wasn’t there. I laughed – some people are damn fit. I never saw them again.

I trudged up the hill, which unsurprisingly was not as bad as I had remembered. It was steep as hell, to be sure, but whereas last year I described getting up that hill as one of the hardest things I had ever done, this year it was just a steep climb. When I emerged at the top and hit the aid station, a pack of runners was on my heels. I refueled, filled my bottle and ran off.

A few minutes later though, I realized that I had not restocked on salt. I checked my pockets and to my chagrin, was empty. There was nothing I could do about it, but knew I’d pay for this error in nutrition management. This, coupled with a neglect of calories, would catch up to me just down the trail.

A steep, twisting, rocky descent meets you after Goal Hill, and my legs were shaky after the steep climb. But I kept pushing, knowing that my only chance to gain ground was on these downs, that once the trail turned up again I’d be making backwards progress.

There isn’t a lot of fun going on in this section of the race. Once you hit the bottom, miles 28 and 29 click off in slow motion through winding bogs, berry bushes and more creeks. At this point, even the slightest incline was a killer. I was barely jogging them. I started getting passed again on these gradual ups and images of last year started flashing through my mind.

I did make a couple more passes on the intermittent downs, but the grade was working against me. I tried not think about the salt I didn’t have, but at this point in the race your mind is really not working that well. I kept forgetting to pop blocks into my mouth, and the ones I did I couldn’t choke down. I had a Gu left along with some potatoes, but it never occurred to me to eat. I was just trying to make it to that last aid station.

As a woman passed me and gave me some words of encouragement, she reminded me “Just one last big climb.” “That’s one more than I have left," I responded.” “No way, you got this,” she said. I cursed myself for the negativity, but I was cracking.

The trail finally flattened out and I’ve never been so happy to hear the roar of cars as we emerged across the highway.

I probably took too long at that last aid station, but needed some courage to tackle the last mile and-a-half climb back to the finish. I popped more salt, filled my water and watched Andy run past and up the hill. I tried to catch him, to no avail.

At this point last year, I just wanted to stop. I was walking up the last hill with what felt like hoards of runners blowing by me. I’ve never been so close to the finish and wanted to badly to quit.

So I took it moderately easy, knowing the climb was for real and that the last mile doesn’t ignore the fact that you’ve put 30 behind you. With a half mile to go, I was struggling. The gradual incline allowed me to run, but at a miserably slow pace. Spectators started dotting the trail, encouraging us upward. As a roar went up, I glanced back and saw a woman charging towards me, finishing strong.

I resolved to not let her beat me to the finish. I found some strength left in my legs and kicked up the hill to the last quick down, right turn and to the finish. Catching the glimpse of the finish line, I couldn’t believe it took so long.

Finishing is always bitter sweet. I couldn’t wait to be off my feet, but the race is over. The experience done. The present is once again the past, memories now fighting anticipation in my crowded mind.

Maura greeted me at the finish and helped me find a place to sit. She retrieved my bag with a change of shoes and a dry shirt, and as I tried to recount the race I found myself breathing heavy just talking. Somehow she figured out that I just wanted to be by myself for a bit and went back to rejoin Jessica. I took some deep breaths but wasn’t feeling any better. My arms and head started to tingle.

I drank some water, choked down a couple grapes and tried to relax. I am a veteran of “is it getting worse?” self-assessments and while it wasn’t actually getting worse, it certainly wasn’t getting better. I had never felt like this before and while I wasn’t worried per se, I also didn’t really like it. As I got to my feet, no real plan in mind, the world started slowly spinning and I resolved to wander to the medic tent, just to be sure.

Upon arrival, I explained that I felt tingly and light-headed. With friendly smiles, they reminded me that I had just run 30 miles and if I didn’t feel like that, I probably didn’t go hard enough. They gave me Gatorade and a couple salt pills and sent me on my way.

Maura had smartly convinced me to sign up for a post-race massage right away and checking back in the table was mine. I lied down, got my calves kneaded for about 10 minutes and let my body soak in the electrolytes. I felt like a different person getting up and was ready to resume the post-race festivities.

In other words, I was ready for a beer.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Race Report: Kaiser 5k 2014

Mileage
Today: 3
Present: 961
Count: 133

All week I had been thinking about the race. Envisioning the start, the middle, the finish. It's been a long time since I ran a 5k for pace, even longer since I ran one in a race. I knew I had a fast time in me, I just had to trust myself and not get intimidated by the relatively large stage. I had something to run for, to release everything that's been bottled up.

The morning didn't exactly go as planned, despite my early arrival. Rain mucked things up, but I got in a good warm up and despite the wet, I was not cold. The elements don't generally bother me -- and on a relative scale when other people crumple in the wind and rain, I excel. Mental toughness I guess.

I looked around for my dad at the start but couldn't find him -- the rose garden failing as a meeting place. I eased up towards the starting line, lost on a sea of runners. With a couple minutes to spare, KJ showed up, typical late arrival. We briefly shot the shit and got ready to rock.

The trolley bell rang and off we went. As it goes in these races, some slow people thought it would be fun to start up front so I had to weave through traffic for the first 20-30 yards. But all clear, I took off after the leaders. I looked ahead and saw a ton of people. My heart dropped a little but I kept my pace.

As the half marathon diverged and the 5k cut left, most of the leaders kept on. I was reminded that this is one of the most competitive half marathons in the area, and the fast guys come out for that one. I tucked into about 10th place as we sped past the museum. I felt strong, felt fast, but held within myself. I didn't want to get into the red too early. No time to slow down.

And from that moment on, no one passed me. I gradually picked people off, running smart. Easing up the hills and accelerating the downs, using my technical downhill ability to my advantage.

On the flats I felt smooth, gliding along through the falling rain. As we left JFK and dipped south, there weren't that many people ahead of me, but I couldn't see the leaders anymore. I knew 7th would be no problem, and eyed 6th.

My limiting factor was my lungs, not my legs. A great problem to have. I just don't do that much speed training, but all those hills have strengthened up my legs considerably. Looks like more mile repeats are in my future.

We hit the two-mile mark and the road drifted down. I took off, catching 7th with my eyes on 6th. And despite the fact that he was running fast, I still looked at him and thought there's no way I am losing to this guy. I didn't look back. 5th was in sight.

I pushed it. The 3-mile mark came into view and 5th turned around. He kept turning around all the way to the finish, but stayed just out of reach. By this time I was borderline wheezing, a dull burn emanating from my chest, slowly enveloping the rest of my body. The knowledge that I just couldn't go much faster was numbing.

The last 0.1 took forever. Probably because it was 0.2. But I didn't know that, so when I crossed the finish line at 18:06 I thought to myself, shit, 18 minutes is a FAST 5k if I couldn't even do it on this course, running that well. But when I found out that the course was actually 3.2 and I ran 3.3, that my "true" 5k pace was just over 17 and my race 5k (with added distance for not running a perfect line) was 17:30 or so, I was thrilled.

I crushed my PR and couldn't have been happier about the way I ran. I left it all out there, but ran smart. Perhaps I could have started a bit faster to keep up with the elites, but I ran within myself and can't complain about how it shook out.

The blueberry would be proud.

http://app.strava.com/activities/110777155

Thursday, January 30, 2014

East Potrero Farm Recon

Mileage
Today: 3
Present: 958
Count: 132

I just wanted to get out onto the road. Out on my feet. I'd been reading about this property over in East Potrero, even walked it. So I ran over to check it out and now want to build the farm. The biggest urban farm.

Blueberry farm.

http://app.strava.com/activities/110777158


Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Tuesday Maintenance, Lactate Dislodging

Mileage
Today: 6
Present: 955
Count: 131

I've found this great little six mile loop, up my hill, down around the ballpark and back. Its mostly flat, I can avoid traffic when I need to and just shut it off. Its not the prettiest route in the city but it gets the job done.

But tomorrow, it all changes.

http://app.strava.com/activities/109570614

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Showing Maura Heron

Mileage
Today: 7
Present: 949
Count: 130

I'm writing these updates almost two weeks after the runs. So much has passed since this run. It didn't have anything to do with it, but it kicked off the bad feelings. So many bad feelings.

Maura liked the run, she liked my park. But I didn't like what came next.

http://app.strava.com/activities/109570623

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Huddart to Purisima, X2

Mileage
Today: 25
Present: 942
Count: 129

Some mornings, you just feel like running. And besides the fact that I have WTC coming up, its been a while since I've just run, and run.

I drove down to Huddart in the morning with Luchi, unsure of exactly how the day would shake out. I do enjoy running with other people, but its hard to get your ideal training run in when other people are there. The pace, the mood, everything. But the flip side is that the right training partners can push you further than you thought you could go, drag you up the hills.

KJ met us at the park and promptly said that 20+ miles was not in the cards today, having just gotten back from a month-long vacation. So two laps it was.

It hasn't rained in what seems like years, and my recollection of Huddart dark and brown and green and wet was anything but. But the trails were just as soft and quiet, a strange emptiness on this silent Saturday.

In addition to putting in miles, I also wanted to find the connection between Huddart and Purisima. Easy to find at the top, a quick jaunt across the road. We dropped down the fire road and I realized that unless you're committed to going all the way around the loop, dropping down to Purisima is pure masochism. So I did it twice.

We raced down Chinaquin, KJ taking the lead. Luchi lagged a bit but its understandable, turns out there aren't that many people who can keep up with with KJ down the hill.

I dropped them off at the parking lot, refilled my water and set back off. I did my best to conserve water, knowing that I ran short on lap one. For a moment, I considered adding in the loop at Purisima, but pushing 30 miles was not meant to be. I wasn't prepared, and at that distance it turns out you need to have your act together.

I felt good grinding up to Skyline, but started to lag as I approached the top. I dropped down into the valley and hit the bottom, just behind some bikers. The climb back out was brutal. Long, slow and I knew I was short water. I did my best to keep my momentum and run when I could, but the hill seemed forever. I stayed just behind the bikers most of the way but couldn't seem to pass them.

Maybe I shouldn't put so much credence in it, but I still hate getting passed by bikers up the hill.

I finally hit the top and was beat, didn't have much water left and just wanted to be back home. I cruised back down but when you're exhausted and out of water, even the best descents don't seem that fun. I couldn't get to the parking lot fast enough. My legs hurt. I was thirsty. Hungry. I didn't want to be running anymore.

But I finished. And with just about the hardest training run I've done since some of KJ and my old school jaunts from the Marina to the headlands and back, my confidence bloomed.\

http://app.strava.com/activities/108948320

Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Long Way to Breakfast

Mileage
Today: 4
Present: 917
Count: 128

I am starting to dig this Thursday tradition of running to breakfast. This morning Dmitri was painting the mural at 3266 24th Street and I wanted to see just how this would go down.

Up the backside of Bernal the long way, around and down, reminding myself just what a special neighborhood that is. And someday, if I stick around, I'd like to get back there. Even though the secret is out and it really is the next Noe Valley.

http://app.strava.com/activities/108948282