Friday, May 8, 2015

Miwok 100k - Do not be afraid.

     As has been the case for the past four years, I began this year with a familiar, and lofty goal: qualify for the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run.  Running a sub-15 hr 30 min 100k at Miwok on May 2 would do just that... and race day was here.

     Miwok is one of the first ultras I'd ever heard of (~8-10 years ago) and it was immediately put on my bucket list.  Specifically, my training for this race began in January and largely relied upon other ultramarathon races as buildup, those being: Jed Smith 50k on Feb. 7, FOURmidable 50k on Feb 21, Way Too Cool 50k on March 7, and Lake Sonoma 50 Mile on April 11.  My weekly mileage wasn't as high as I'd have liked this year (average of ~40 miles/week), but I certainly did not skimp on my long runs and while I was nervous about some of the fairly aggressive cut-off times along the course (specifically the 13:30 cut-off at mile 56), I felt up to the challenge and did not envision a scenario in which I would fail.

     My parents, wife, Lucy, and I rented a house in Stinson Beach about a mile from the start/finish line.  I went to bed at 9 pm, woke up at 3:45 am, gathered up my beard and was dropped off at the start at 4:15 am.  I quickly bumped into my local area friends and patiently awaited the 5:00 am start.

Sunglasses: check; headlamp: check; beanie: check; beard: check

KC, myself, Veronica, Terry
     Roughly 400 of us crowded up on the road in front of the Stinson Beach fire station, Tia said "go", and we were off.  The journey began heading southward, towards San Francisco and rose sharply, gaining ~1500 feet in the first 2-3 miles.  It was humid and felt warm.  I was sweating profusely within 10-15 minutes and less than two miles into the race the thought that rushed to the forefront of my mind was "I should just turn around now and go back to sleep".  That potential reality seemed delightful and the desire to make it so was strong.  Almost immediately I recognized that thought as being a product of fear.  Fear of the discomfort and/or pain that I might experience today, fear of missing a cut-off and not finishing the race, fear of not qualifying for Western States, which ultimately all boils down to a common fear that hinders and plagues us all; the fear of failure.  If I quit now, it would be my decision, my choice and the chance of failure would be off-the-table.  If I quit now, could not be exposed as not fast enough, not strong enough, or not good enough.  Quit now and those fears could not be realized since, by some measure (not the type that I employ) if one does not try at it, one cannot fail at it.  F@#$ fear...

     The field of runners spread out after the first couple of miles and I was able to settle into my "all day" pace.  Relying on a mixture of water and Tailwind in my pack, I didn't stop at the first two aid stations (Cardiac I @ mile 2.8 and Muir Beach I @ mile 8.0).  I chatted with friends, enjoyed the views, and bid farewell to the first two major climbs of the course before arriving at Tennessee Valley I, mile 13.8.  At TV1, I ate half a banana and kept moving.  On my way out of the aid station, I overheard my friend Annie getting some solid advice from her dad, John.  As she left the aid station he said to her "Do not be afraid.".  That simple advice stuck with me the rest of the day, for I had much to fear and fear in most scenarios is a wasted emotion.  From that point on, when doubt, worry, or fear encroached upon my thoughts, I thought to myself "Do not be afraid, Paul.".  It helped me to relax and trudge onward, with determination rather than fear.

Nearing Bridge View aid station, mile ~18.

     During the third major climb of the day, during miles 20-22, exhaustion (along with a desire to panic) was setting in for the first time.  I recalled how terribly I felt a similar stage of the Cuyamaca 100k and reminded myself to take it easy and that this difficult stretch would pass.  It did.

     I recovered from my little dreary stretch during the long downhill section heading into TV2, mile 26.0.  This is the first place I would see my wife and parents and I was happy to see them.  I said my hellos, tossed back two chocolate Svelte protein shakes (~400 calories), joked about how I only had ~40 miles to go (and that if I hurried, I'd only be running for another 9 hours), and continued on.

     Shortly after leaving TV2, I realized I had made a big mistake.  I had forgotten my pre-measured packets of tailwind and it was about time for me to refill my pack with a fresh mix.  Fortunately I learned that the aid stations were serving Tailwind, and I would not pay for this mistake.  Having run for many hours, I marched on, knowing I had many more hours to run.  Back to Muir Beach, up the relentless ~1800 ft. climb back up to to the Cardiac aid station (I owe a big thanks to a volunteer at cardiac who checked how much fluid I was carrying and encouraged me to fill up after I had initially said I had enough... I needed it), through Pan Toll, and on to Bolinas Ridge.  Running along Bolinas Ridge yielded beautiful views of Stinson Beach, where I longed to be, but would not return to until I had run another 25+ miles.  To a runner on the trail ahead of me, I yelled "I want to go down there.".  In reply he whimpered "Me too.".  For miles and miles, I kept on.

This turkey near the Cardiac II AS was huge!

Old car aside the Coastal Trail.  I considered trying to repair and drive it back to Stinson.

Coastal Trail along Bolinas Ridge, above Stinson Beach and the marine layer.

     After what had already been quite a long day of running, I arrived at the Bolinas Ridge aid station for the first time.  A strict 13 hr 30 min cutoff would be enforced upon returning to this aid station after a ~13.5 mile trip out to the Randall Trailhead and back.  I had about 3.5 hours to cover the 13.5 miles (and ~2,000 ft. of climbing) in order to make the cut-off.  I drank some soda and pressed on. My desire to get in and out of the Randall aid station (and meeting up with my family and pacer, Jerry) grew stronger by the moment and I started to pick up the pace.  During the main 2-3 mile descent into the aid station, I really started pushing, hitting some stretches at sub 7-8 minute mile pace.  My effort drew some cheers from fellow runners and spectators, one guy exclaimed "wow, man you are CRUSHING it right now".  I charged down the hill, yearning to reach the turn around point and get back to Bolinas Ridge before the cutoff.

     The aid station finally came into view.  I saw my dad first, who told me I was ahead of schedule, then found my mom, Candace, and my pacer Jerry.  I also had the great pleasure of seeing my buddy Chris Jones, who always provides great energy and takes awesome pics.  I pounded two more chocolate Svelte protein drinks and Jerry and I embarked upon the long climb back up to the ridge.

Running into Randall AS, mile 49.2.  Phot: Chris Jones

Heading out of Randall, happy to have the company of Jerry!  Photo: Chris Jones.
     For a few miles, I kept doing the math in my head, coming up with the required min/mile pace needed to not get cut at Bolinas II.  I was pretty safe from the cut-off, but it was close enough to keep thinking about it.  I found the urge to move as slowly as possible while not getting cut to be very strong.  A few miles out from Bolinas, Jerry, another runner and I decided it was time to treat Bolinas as the finish line, since if we made it there ahead of the cut-off, we were essentially guaranteed to finish the race.  We put forth a solid effort and suddenly, the biggest challenge to my race, my goal for the year, my Miwok finish and 4th consecutive Western States 100 qualifier... was behind me.  We strolled into Bolinas II about 20 minutes ahead of the cut-off.  It was a huge relief.  I was feeling as, if not more, mentally exhausted as I was physically.  To this point, I had averaged ~14 minute miles and needed only to average ~21 minute miles over the remaining 6-7 miles in order to finish the race and qualify for States.  I told Jerry that I wanted to walk for a mile or two and that I had been strong on the downhills all day so after a couple of miles of walking, I would likely bounce back strong and be able to make a good push to the finish.  So, we took it easy and enjoyed the views for the next couple of miles, jogging occasionally, but mostly walking.

Coastal Trail, heading towards the finish at Stinson Beach.

Rolling through the hills.  Photo: Jerry S

Very much ready to be done running.  Photo Jerry S

     As the sun began to set and the fog began to roll in, Jerry said "you know, you still have a shot at a sub 15".  I looked at my watch and confirmed.  Four sub-14 minute miles (faster than it sounds on this terrain, with 57 miles on your legs), would get me in under 15 hours.  I gave a half laugh, half groan and said "well, let's do it then".  I picked up the pace, hiking hard on the ups and running increasingly faster on the downhills.  We finally reached the turn off to the Matt Davies trail, which seemed like it would never arrive.  This marked (what we thought was) a 1,700 ft descent and 2 miles to go to the finish.


Coastal Trail, mile ~57.  Photo: Glenn Tachiyama

     My legs were feeling fantastic and I really started letting loose on the steep, technical downhills.  I remember focusing on the feelings in my feet, legs, and joints and was feeling 0 pain.  My body and mind were tired, but my legs were inexplicably fresh.  Jerry was pumped up for me and was probably happy to be doing some real running.  We clocked a 9 min and an 8:30 mile on the steep technical downhill.  Suddenly, we reached the mileage at which we though the race would be over, but it was not.  The sun was setting, fog had rolled in, and the dense foliage was making it difficult to see the rocks, roots, and steps on the trail.  Jerry said, "the mileage is off man, just keep pushing".  I did just that.  I ran hard, gasping and grunting, forcing my way along the trail.  We had past ~20 runners in the last 3-4 miles.  I followed the trail around a sharp corner and found myself spewed out of the woods and onto the pavement.  Crowds of people were cheering and hollering.  I saw family and friends, I kept charging down the road and I saw the finish line.  14 hours, 56 minutes.  I gave Tia a hug and accepted my award.  I was done.  Nothing to fear.
Only yards to go!

~13,000 ft of climbing

~62.8 mile tour of Marin County

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Lake Sonoma 50 Mile

     On Saturday, April 11, I ran the eight annual Lake Sonoma 50 Mile endurance run.  It is a fairly young race, but has grown wildly in popularity and attracts some of the fastest trail runners in North America, if not the world.  As part of the Montrail Ultra Cup Series, the top two finishers are awarded spots in the 2015 Western States 100 Mile run.  The field was stacked, with maybe 20-30 registered runners (male & female) capable of winning the race.

     My goals were to finish, get a (very) long training run in for my Miwok 100k, and enjoy the event and course as much as possible.  I was also quite interested in winning Montrail's "Last Chance Promo", which selected one runner to run the 2015 Western States 100 (from a pool of runners who finished Lake Sonoma 50 and had qualified for the 2015 Western States 100, but not been picked in the most recent lottery).  I'll save you the suspense... the runner was selected roughly one week after the LS50 race, and it was not me.

     At 6:30 AM, about 350 of us headed for the trails, which I had been told, and soon learned for myself to be beautiful.  Running gently and comfortably, towards the back of the pack, I took in the sights.

~7:30 AM maybe 5 miles in

Coming into Warm Springs, mile 11.6.  Photo: Chris Jones

My favorite shot of the day, ~mile 15
     LS50 is an out and back course, so I had been looking forward to seeing the top runners cruising back while I was heading out.  I was feeling great and made sure to hop off the trail and encourage every runner I saw on their return trip.  I also snapped a few pics of some of my fav's/buddies.

Mike Wardian, 8th overall

Max King, 9th overall

Gary Gellin, 10th overall
Stephanie Howe, 1st Female
     During an ultra I occasionally, if not continually, take stock of the feedback I'm getting from my body and try my best to translate that information into what my needs are.  For example, certain aches and pains might indicate pacing adjustments are needed;  lethargy, cramping, tightness, or nausea might indicate I'm needing certain fluids or foods to keep me going.  Throughout the day, all systems were go.  I was feeling fine, enjoying the course and company, and just kept plodding along.

     I was excited to arrive at the turnaround (halfway) point.  I received lots of smiles and encouragement from friends and dug into my drop bag where I loaded up on some calories, in the form of three 11 oz Svelte protein shakes and a Tahoe Trail Bar.   The distance I had traveled thus far (25 miles), felt long, and I was eager to head back to the start/finish.  Out of the aid station, on to the finish I went.
Halfway done and happy to see Chris Jones & co.  Photo: Chris Jones
     The second half of my run was largely uneventful.  Considering the number of miles I had covered, I was feeling great.  I no acute pains, no nausea, it was hot, but bearable.  I meandered along the trail, rising and falling with the mountains that cradled the lake.  I chatted with some new friends, I saw a deer, I nearly stepped on a rattlesnake's tail as it finished crossing the trail (this wasn't a frightening experience, mayyybe a bit of a close call, but neither of us became startled), and I enjoyed the view.

     With 15 miles to go, I was pretty much ready to be done running.  Fortunately I was still feeling well.  I was running pretty strong on the flat and downhill stretches and made no attempt to do anything but hike on anything but the most gentle uphill sections.  With 6-7 miles to go, my energy levels were really tanking.  I had been on the trail for over 10 hours and had climbed thousands of feet.  I started to break the rest of the course down into miles... and tenths of miles, congratulating myself for all progress, no matter how small.  And then, almost suddenly, as happens with events like this, the finish line came into view.  Those last miles that seemingly would never pass, in fact did.  Just as I had imagine I would, I cruised down the finishers chute and it was over.  50 miles in the books.  Incredible course, atmosphere, and a very well organized race.

Race director John Medinger.  Photo: Chris Jones

Jim, Chris Jones, WS100 Founder Gordy Ansleigh, and myself.

James and I leap frogged each other all day, finished within 2 minutes of each other, and were both happy to have our finisher's jackets.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Accidentally ran a marathon...

As has happened a few times in my life, I accidentally ran a marathon this weekend.  I was chatting with my friend Jeff on Friday and decided I would pace him for a 16 mile stretch of his American River 50 Mile Endurance Run.  I was having such a good time, that when I completed my 16 mile section, I decided to accompany him the additional 10 miles to the finish.  Congrats to Jeff on his finish, and thanks for the marathon!

I felt great running the last ~1/2 of the AR 50M course and I'm taking that as a confidence booster into this Saturday's Lake Sonoma 50 Mile race.  The Lake Sonoma 50M course is difficult, notching up ~12,000 ft. of cumulative elevation gain.  I'll give it what I've got and will be hoping to nab that last chance at a Western States 100 Mile spot!

Cruising through mile ~43 of the AR 50M.

Happiest place on earth... the finish area of an Ultra.

Monday, March 23, 2015


Heading down from the Mt. Rose summit, 10,776 ft.
Photo credit: 
Juan de Oliva

In my life, I have learned to enjoy various things.  One measure I have taken to ensure that I am able to allot time to them all is to loosely arrange them in a prioritized list.  I don't consider this life management skill of mine to be terribly unique, but I'm quite happy with the fact that I've managed to prioritize these things in such a way that I'm able to a. enjoy my favorite things (which aren't always in-line with societal norms) and b. navigate myself through life in a way that is generally well-accepted by society.  I don't think much needs to be said as for why I like part 'a',  Part 'b' is important because it seems to be quite helpful with respect to maintaining relationships, generating income, avoiding incarceration, etc.

Somewhere among my nifty list of priorities lies the task of typing out a few of my thoughts and experiences, tossing in some pictures, and clicking "Publish" (to my blog).  Firmly seated in a higher position on that same list is my running, training, and exploring our natural environment.  While I've not been blogging frequently, I have certainly have been able to dedicate some time to those other three things.  This is good because I have two difficult races on my schedule (Lake Sonoma 50 Mile and the Miwok 100k) and delving into such events, without having practiced a bit is a treacherous idea.

Quick recap of my 2015 running:

February 7, Jed Smith 50k:  This race has been going on since 1987 and has been on my radar for a while.  After a 2-3 month break from consistent running after my Cuyamaca 100k race, I logged about 160 miles in January and felt I was in good enough shape to drive to the Jed Smith 50k starting line and register on the day of the race.  I set an 'A' goal of running a sub-5hr race and a 'B' goal of running my fastest 50k (sub ~5:29).  I did not feel fantastic, but I did eek out a fastest 50k in 5:26:02!  'B' goal... check!

February 21, FOURmidable 50k:   This was my second time running FOURmidable (the FOUR is a reference to the four major climbs in the Auburn/Cool area, which are incorporated into the race course).  This is an awesome race, put on by Single Track Running (STR) and absolutely covers the most challenging and scenic trails (some of which aren't very well-known/traveled) in the Auburn and Cool area.  I didn't run a whole lot between Jed Smith and this race and suspected I would be maybe 1/2 hour slower than I was the previous time I ran it.  Bingo!  I finished in 7:04:06, twenty-nine minutes slower than I had previously run it.

Cool and foggy start to the FOURmiddable 50k.
Finishing up a FOURmidable course.  31.5 miles, 6,000+ ft of elevation gain.

March 7, Way Too Cool 50k:  With roughly 1200 entrants, WTC50k is the largest 50k race in the world and is right in my back yard.  It's the unofficial kickoff of the ultramarathon season and a great way to catch up with friends, meet new ones, and to knock out 50k of running on some awesome trails.  This was my 4th WTC and I broke my streak of running each one slower than the previous year.  5:57:02.

One week prior to this event, our Folsom Trail Runners group lost a friend, Steve Avilla, who was to run WTC50k.  We honored his spirit by sporting his bib #89 on our backs and a handful of his friends and family ran the entire course together with Steve's actual bib.  I did not know Steve well, but as a fellow runner, I do feel a connection with him and his untimely passing serves as a reminder to us all that tomorrow is not given.  RIP Steve.
Running down to HWY 49, mile ~11.  Photo Credit: InsideTrail

My 4th consecutive WTC 50k, in the books.

The trails have treated me well so far in 2015.  Here are a few more highlights:

Castle Peak w/ Lucy in February

Castle Peak w/ Lucy in February

Jumping off arches near Rattlesnake Bar, Folsom Lake.

A huge bald eagle's nest, seen at mile ~24 of the FOURmiddable 50k.
Relaxing near the TRT between Spooner Summit and Snow Valley Peak, early March.

Young sharp-tailed snake, caught and released near Mormon's Ravine along the Pioneer Express Trail.

Pioneer Express Trail, just south of Rattlesnake Bar.

Pioneer Express Trail, south of Avery's Pond.

Looking towards Dowdin's Pt., from Mormon's Ravine.
Mt. Rose summit - 03/22/2015:

We spent a lot of the day traversing steep, mildly exposed snowy slopes.

Final push to the summit

Lunch on the Mt. Rose summit (10,776 ft) with Paulo and Juan.  Frozen Macro Bars with 50-60 MPH winds and temps in the 20's.

Mt. Rose summit, 10,776 ft.