Sunday, October 27, 2013

When the Body Takes a Holiday

So I have been on the sidelines now for over the last 10 days.  First it started with dropping off my bike for a long needed tune-up as well as to fix the front breaks.  Come to find out, there was a lot more work needed including replacing the drive train.  Next, the BART strike occurred on Friday, with me only putting in one lunch time run in during that week. 

The final straw came on Saturday.  The plan was that we were going to work on speedwork with the kids.  These kids are awesome, the run long distances and while not being overly fast, we have focused on having fun running.  The problem is that in California there is a grade system built around speed: an A means a kid is running in the 7 mile range, 8 minute mile gets you a B, a 9 minute mile (our oldest who has complete a half marathon and numerous 10K and 5K currently is running a 9:30) gets you a C, a 10 minute mile a D, 11 of course you fail?  Hmm...

I get it, for most kids my daughters ages are participating in some sort of organized sports, like soccer, which means they are doing speed drills.  So my girls are just getting warmed up at mile one when they are done.

Anyway I digress, I woke up fine only to succumb to fever that afternoon.  I guess, I came down with Step throat. So besides working at home, I have basically been sitting and doing nothing. This has been especially tough since my father-in-law was awesome enough to get me a Garmin Fenix!  Man its been tough not to be able to go out and test it out.  Expect a review soon.  Thank you Steve!

It wasn't until yesterday, when the kids and Beth ran Rocky Ridge yesterday that I got a little run in pacing my son.  Everything felt good even though my tonsils are still the size of walnuts.

But in reality, this has been the first time since I have taken this much time off from exercise since the calf muscle and toothpick incident back in January.  I had been suffering from Achilles bursitis for three months, but I haven't noticed any hints of it in days.  My body needed a vacation and since I was unwilling to take one,  my body took a holiday. In fact this is the fewest miles run since February.

That is good it happened now because I am one week out from beginning my Surf City Marathon training schedule.  To start off the training schedule, the Diablo  Trail Adventure Half Marathon is this coming weekend.  It is bound to be fun, first on Saturday we have volunteered to set up, followed by Saturday.  I will be running with fresh legs and the kids will be running the 5 and 10Ks. 

On to the Diablo Trail Adventure.....


Tuesday, October 15, 2013

What Makes an Ultra Runner?

Back Creek Trail - Mount Diablo
It has finally happened, in the September and October issues of Ultrarunning Magazine my two ultra distances are listed:  The Dirty Dozen 12 hour which I completed just over 40 miles and the Mount Diablo Challenge 50K.  It is funny that it took having my name and times posted in this magazine has provided some validation that I completed these distances.  That, and now seeing my name on, has kind of made me think of myself as an ultra runner.  But really though, at what point can you call yourself an ultra runner?

You see, I have no problem calling myself a marathon runner.  I have completed 6 marathons and just signed up for my seventh. While they were mid-to-back-in-the-pack finishes, I can say that I trained for them  focused on the goal and feel good about each and every one of them.  I can even say that at completing my first, when the announcer proclaimed that I am one, at that moment I was one.  Let's face it, the statement that 1% of all runners ever try or complete a marathon makes you feel proud of the achievement.

However, I can say that I have been struggling with the whole idea that I can call myself an ultra runner.

So what makes an Ultra Runner?

By definition, an ultra runner is anyone who completes a distance greater than 26.2 miles.   OK, so by definition, that fits. Yet I feel I need to qualify what I have done by saying that I have run ultra distances instead of calling myself an ultra runner. 

There may be a couple of reasons for this.  First of all,  I do listen to a lot of podcasts (Trail Runner Nation, Ultrarunnerpodcast, Endurance Planet, and Endurance Trail) which do focus more on the 50 miler to 100 mile distances.  With such focus on these distances the measuring stick for what makes an ultra runner at these distances.

This was further reinforced when I volunteered at Western States this year.  Many of the volunteers had completed at least a 50 mile if not a full 100 in their running career.  And here I was talking about how proud I was to have finished my first 50K.  How droll!

Secondly, there has  been a lot of discussion, both on the podcasts as well as in print, that there are quite a few people joining the sport at the 50K distance.  This takes the word ultra out of the word ultra if you know what I mean.

I would like to suggest however, that the definition is more general than it seems.  I know quite a few trail runners that I would categorize as an ultra runner.   These may be runners who may run races every weekend to those who just enjoy the challenge of running really tough terrain.

For example,  there are quite a few in the Bay Area trail running community that I know ( and I would say this applies in general) that may run distances from half marathon to full ultra at least twice if not more during any given month.  These are not flat races either.  One example, one fellow runner will have run  two of the toughest half marathon's in the Bay Area (Coastal Trail Run's Diablo and Brazen Racing's Rocky Ridge) with combined elevation of almost 8K feet within a month.  This is not to mention all of the other races (you name the distance) he has completed year-to-date.  Yes he has ultra distances under his belt and I would definitely consider him an ultra runner for those distances; however, it is even more amazing is how he is able to carry the combined mileage through the year.  If he had never done an ultra distance race, would he be any less of an ultra runner?

Another example are those who are just running and mastering "their" though  trails.  An example of this can be when you pick that trail, not really associated with a race or training, that is challenging just to do it, like my recent run up to the top of Diablo and back down through some of the most awesome but narliest  technical single track that I had run in awhile.  While it was only 13.6 miles it had a combined elevation gain of over 5,100 feet. Am I any less of an ultra runner?

I use both of these examples to compare against someone who may train for a three or four half marathons or one or two marathons a year pretty much on a flat course.  Yes, completing these events is a huge accomplishment and I do not want to take away from that.  However, to use the basic definition of what an ultra runner is against this benchmark is pretty weak. The basis of a traditional half or full marathon is about speed in a somewhat controlled course with somewhat controlled conditions.  Yes each course is different; however, your overall pace is not necessarily affected by a steep grade or rocks in the road.

So I will ask again, what makes an ultra runner?  It really comes down to no set definition but really how you want to describe your achievements.  Yes I am an ultra runner, not just because of the two ultra's that I have done.  While I love that I have been acknowledged for these achievements in Ultrarunning Magazine, I do not need it as validation of that achievement.  While I definitely see more 50K's and even a few 50 milers in the future, I have no desire to run 100 milers and that is just fine with me. But with the type of terrain I choose and the difficulty of the course (both in races and in just my average run of the mill outings) I just don't fit in the 99% either.

Yes, I am an ultra runner!

Friday, October 4, 2013

Diablo Summit - Mitchell Canyon, North Peak Trail, Bald Ridge Trail, to Eagle Peak

Mitchell Canyon floor
Finally, with a day off and a wonderful and patient wife, I was able to make the loop to the summit of Mount Diablo - up Mitchell Canyon and Juniper Trails and down North Peak, Bald Ridge and Eagle Peak trails.  The temperature was just right and while a bit of smoke from a fire up at Lake Berryessa, the sky was clear.

Eagle Peak from Mitchell Canyon Trail
I am pretty used to summitting from Mitchell Canyon and Juniper Trails.  In fact, as I have stated before, Juniper has been my favorite trail on the mountain for some awesome technical single track.  However, having only run down North Peak (with some good single track) I wasn't sure what awaited on Bald Ridge or Eagle Peak trails.

Bald Ridge from Mitchell Canyon
My wife had run much of Bald Ridge and said I would enjoy it a lot and "was very runnable."  The clue should have been more that I would enjoy this trail since she knows my hankering for some really good technical.  I misunderstood the very runnable part.  It is, but beats Juniper in the technical category, a tough feat indeed.

The run was pretty uneventful up Mitchell Canyon.  All fire road, after the first 2 miles the real climb begins and continues to Juniper Campground.  This is a great place to fill up your water bottle.  Next is Juniper Trail, 1 mile and 900 feet of climbing to 3,810 ft. summit.  I spent a little bit of time here and then began my descent.

North Point Trail through the fire zone.
As short run down Summit trail will connect you with North Peak Trail.  This will take you through areas that were affected by this years Morgan Fire.  This is a bit of nice single track with the occasional drops and dips through loose rock and chaparral. Last time Beth and I ran through here we ran into some wild hogs.

After about 1.5 of descent you reach Prospector's Gap.  Here you are given the choice of either running up to North Peak, down the Gap Fire Road, down Meridian Trail (wide fire trail but has been torn up from the fire equipment), and Bald Ridge Trail.
Wonderful views from Bald Ridge Trail.

Eagle Peak from Bald Ridge Trail
Bald Ridge Trail is a wonderful roller coaster single track through oak and pine forests and is peppered with rocky outcroppings and loose rock.  Most of the trail is covered and, as my wife stated, pretty runnable.  Just note that there will be times when you will come to a grinding halt because the rocky sections.  Once you are through these forests you are treated with the trails name sake - Bald Ridge.  You are treated with some awesome views of Mitchell Canyon, North Peak, Eagle Peak, Clayton Valley, and the Sacramento Delta.  After you reach a slight climb to the little summit, you drop down into some nicely groomed single track that takes you to the Eagle Peak, Back Creek Trail, and Meridian Trail intersection.

I was pretty beat by this point and was tempted to drop down Back Creek or take Meridian Trail back to Mitchell Canyon Trail; however, I stuck with the original plan- take the Eagle Peak Trail to Twin Peaks and then down Mitchell Rock trail.

Bald Ridge Trail from Eagle Point.  Back Creek Trail is on the left.
Ever since we have been hiking and running out of Back Creek Trail and Mitchell Canyon trail I have wanted to take Eagle Peak.  Pretty much like when I graduated from the intermediate slopes to black diamonds in skiing, Eagle Peak seemed so foreboding.  I would look longingly at this trail every time we would climb up out of Back Creek only to settle on running back down Mitchell Canyon.  Today would be the day.

I would breakdown Eagle Peak Trail into 4 sections - the drop down across the ridge, the climb up to Eagle Peak, the and the descent to the Pine Trail cutoff, and then down to Pine Trail.  At the Pine Trail Cutoff you can take another trail to Twin Peaks which connect to Mitchell Rock Trail.  I took the first 3 sections then over to Twin Peaks.

The climb up Eagle Peak.
The first section went pretty well.  Keep in mind there is a pretty steep drop on the Back Creek Trail side and that it is pretty rocky.  The climb up to Eagle Peak was a little bit of a challenge.  It is steep and again pretty rocky.  It is worth the climb because you are treated with some very nicely groomed single track during the third section down Eagle Peak.  That said, you have to keep your wits about you since you are running in very tall chaparral and the trail isn't marked very well.  You will find that the trail may split into two trail, with one leading off to oblivion.  Other parts of the trail gets pretty rocky and drops a few feet.  But  again this trail is really fun.  

By the time I got to Twin Peaks my legs were pretty tired from what was the most technical run that I have had in a while.  From Twin Peaks, more single track along the Mitchell Rock Trail, mainly switchback through pine and grasslands.  We had taken the kids through this section back in the spring and the wild flowers were beautiful through here.  This part of the trail went pretty quick and dropped me back to the staging area.

With 13.6 miles and over 5,100 feet of elevation gain, this was an awesome run. Other than the Mitchell Canyon section, it was all single track and mostly technical.  This run has quickly ascended to one of my favorite runs!

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