Wednesday, December 18, 2013

A Way Too Cool Race to Pass Up

Love this picture...sorry to reuse!
A few posts back I mentioned that I had began training for the Surf City Marathon.  I laid out my schedule leading up to the race with the focus of getting a PR at the marathon.  Keep in mind, a PR is breaking 4:42 which is totally doable. The training has been going well so far, with only a couple of sniffles and a couple of off weeks.

I have adjusted my long run to two runs on Sunday, one in the morning and the second half in the afternoon primarily consisting of trails (I will get to why in a moment). I am getting a lot of road work though, primarily during the week in the city and finally have seen my pace coming down.  

What is interesting though, as my wife pointed out on a run from a year ago, I am no where able to run a  sustained 5 mile run at an 8 minute pace.  I believe it is all tied to the calf and Achilles issues I have had through the year, besides the extra 10 pounds. I may be dreaming, but I am hoping to get this back down to at least a 8:30 half marathon pace before February 2nd.

Now with the primary focus being Surf City, my wife and I have been eying the Way Too Cool 50K on March 8th for a while now.  To get in you have to get selected by lottery.  I kind of figured one of us would be selected (pretty much hoping it would be my wife, not I) so we put our names in the bucket.  Well we both got selected.  

So now I have a 50K with almost 5K feet in elevation scheduled one month after my very flat road marathon. That, combined with my desire to run the Mount Diablo Challenge 50K on April 19th, means that I should have three big runs right out the gate.  Thus why I am opting to have my longer runs occur on the trails with elevation.

Case in point, last Sunday I woke up for a wonderful run up on Lime Ridge.  It was 35 degrees when I started and the run went on without a hitch.  I covered 1,800 feet of elevation gain in that 10.3 mile run with some pretty steep descents.  I followed that run up latter that afternoon with an a tough 9.5 mile run with 1,900 feet of elevation gain including my favorite steep hill out of Castle Rock.  Both of these runs saw huge performance gains since I had run them before and there was no lingering pain or DOMS after.

I have continue to suffer from the Achilles bursitis, mainly though on my road runs.  It only affects the first 0.25 mile before the pain subsides  then returns latter in the evening.  However, when I run the trails the pain isn't there and no lingering pain later in the evening.

Hopefully will be running the 50K instead of pacing duties.
All said, the way I am approaching my training now is to focus on Surf City first, get the miles in and improve my pace.  While I am doing a lot of hill running, which isn't a direct factor in this race, it will help with my hamstring strength and speed.  I will take the week after the marathon easy but will keep my long run in.  I will include a bit of a taper in 2 weeks from Way Too Cool, reducing volume and increasing intensity.  Then I have seven weeks to the Diablo Challenge.  I am building my elevation and since each of these races increase in mileage I should be fine.

Now, past Diablo I am hoping our schedule allows for the Dirty Dozen 12 Hour Endurance Run with the goal of reaching my first 50 miles and then to do North Face 50K in December.  The last time I had this aggressive of a schedule (for me) was when we did 4 marathons in one year.  So if I can stay smart and injury free this should be a great year!

Friday, December 13, 2013

Redwood Regional Park and French Trail

Running the the trails in Redwood Regional Park.

I thought that my training schedule for Surf City would pretty much keep me off the trails or at least exploring new trails.  However, I have found this not the case.  I have definitely been mixing things up and am continuing to get in my elevation. Last weekend was a great example.


On Saturday, I managed to pace a running buddy of mine at The North Face 50 miler.  While it would only cover the last 6 miles of the race, I was game.  I figured that by mile 44 he would be at a minimal pace anyway.  Boy was I surprised!  I met him at the Tennessee Valley aid station 30 minutes ahead of his target time and, after maybe a 30 second stop for aid, ran up the first quarter mile of the last hill (about 900 feet of elevation).  The rest of the run consisted of power hiking at a pretty strong run.  In fact the final two miles were run at an 8:30 split.  He managed to beat his PR by 30 minutes for a 50 miler at 10:24.

On Sunday, I ventured over to Redwood Regional Park in the Oakland Hills for what should have been my long run.  Beth had suggested I run the Canyon Meadow 30K course to get my planned 18 mile long run.  Me, taking the advantage of running in an area where there are other trails to explore, meant that I could finally run a trail I have read much about: The French Trail.  I had heard this is a beautiful bit of single track through the redwoods and a must do from many at work who also run trails.

Grin and bear it...only 30 degrees in the shade.
I headed out of the house for the 40 minute drive, with a quick stop at Sports Basement for some fuel.  I had read on Sally McRae’s site about Pocket Fuel Naturals, basically almond butter with a variety of other whole fruits and flavors, and discussed with Ryan during my pacing endeavor about using nut butters over gels.  I have wanted to make the switch since before the Mount Diablo Challenge 50K earlier this year and so far have been unsuccessful.  That said, I had the Pineapple Coconut flavor and Pocket Fuel Naturals is a winner so far.  Expect a review in the future.

I digress to say that this meant that I arrived at the Canyon Meadow staging area at 2:15.  Now, I over-optimistically thought this meant I had 3 hours of daylight to get my 18 miles, about the time I ran the race back in March.  Keep in mind, most of French Trail is on the side of a primordial redwood forest (exaggerating of course) which would mean that every time I was in the valley I would be running in twilight.   Not to mention that it was 35-degrees at the start of the run (temperate for the Colorado readers but darn frigid for this California born and raised guy) and frost and ice in the shadows.

Oakland Hills and Ohlone in the distance.
The first four miles consisted of a climb up and running along the East Ridge trail.  This is a wide fire trail with beautiful views of the redwood forest valley to the west, the Las Trampas wilderness to the east, and the Oakland Hills and Ohlone wilderness to the south.  After the initial somewhat steep quarter mile climb, the grade slowly increases until you reach the Skyline staging area.  There were a lot of people out, wearing their winter jackets as if they were in Tahoe. 

Nice downhill at Tres Sendas
From Skyline I continued up the West Ridge trail and here I made my first mistake.  As I was running the trail, I had thought I remembered seeing the French Trail cut off by a red house near the Chabot Science Center.  So I didn’t start looking for the trail marker until then.  I was surprised to find the Tres Sendas trail.  This meant I had passed the cutoff 0.5 mile back.  I decided to take the trail anyway knowing that I would connect with French trail eventually.  This was a fast single track down to almost to the bottom of the valley floor and reached French trail in a quick moment.

French Trail is beautiful whilst in the twilight of the redwoods as stated above. The single track is filled with ferns and evergreen combined with soft dark spongy dirt.  Not to become complacent, this trail is tricky, throwing in tree roots and rock, quick climbs and fast drops which is not for the faint of heart. 

Now if I could only read a map.
To be frank, I lost a lot of time running this trail.  French trail is intersected by 5 or so more trails, all taking you down to the valley floor.  I spent about a half an hour just stopping and getting the map out just to find out where I was.  In fact, when I came to the Starflower trail intersection, I guessed wrong and ended up landing on the Stream trail.  I followed this until I got to the Mill trail to connect back up with French trail.  I didn’t get lost after this detour but now knew I would not make 18 miles, and would be good to finish (again over-optimistically) to 15 miles.

French trail at this point was a little bit of a climb, much of it runnable.  I can definitely understand why it is so recommended.  I will say it again, it is gorgeous!  Once I reached its terminus at Orchard trail it was 4:40 and I had only covered 9 miles.  The park closed at 6:00 (well after dark) so I knew I had still some time to burn. Hmm….I thought I would take the West Ridge trail back to Madrone trail and run back in; however, quickly became a no go when I again got lost and ended up running down Tate trail for a bit.  I turned around and started heading back to the car; however, Toyon trail was calling to me.

Toyon is also a very nice and technical downhill trail from West Ridge which was on the Canyon Meadow course.  I loved this trail with its rocks and ruts.  By now the sun was setting behind the hills; however, I thought I would have enough time to make it back to the car.  The trail connects with the Golden Spike trail which would send me back to the car – again a favorite of mine for its rocks and ruts.

There is a sneaky drop right around that corner.
The problem though, which I miss-judged was how quickly it would get dark, especially in the redwood groves.  I had not brought a headlamp, didn’t think I would need one.   I continued my run with my eyes adjusting to the night.  I was taking total faith that my eyes and feet were still in sync with the terrain. Almost back to the valley floor I quickly realized how reality would trump faith as my right foot caught a rock.  I started flying and flailing through the air yet somehow landing on my feet.  You would think that would slow me down; however, I continued on.  

I finally made it back to the road at the park entrance.  By this time it was dusk and I had a the choice to stay on the trail which was pitch black or run on the road.  I chose safety over bravado and ran the final half mile back to the car.  The run ended at 5:17, right at 3 hours but only 12 miles to show for the effort.

So cold it could have snowed!  Sun setting got to keep moving.
When I got home, I uploaded the results to see why I covered so little miles felt so beat.  First, the elevation gain was a little less than 2,500 feet which would have been the elevation gain if I would have stayed on the 18 mile Canyon Meadow course, just spread out.  I also lost 30 minutes stopping due to a bathroom break at Skyline and stopping to get my bearings every time I got lost.  Also, this was a pretty technical course, not wide open fire trails like the originally planned 18 miles.

But did I have fun? Most definitely!  This was an awesome adventure and is really why I love trail running.  The French trail definitely lived up to its reputation and while I may not use this trail for training for Surf City Marathon it will be really helpful for a couple of ultras, one in March and one in April, that I plan on doing.  More on that in my next post…

Have a great running week!

Friday, December 6, 2013

Is There a Benefit Running in a Group?

Pine Canyon Mount Diablo State Park - Photo Beth Latham
As I have stated before, I got into running with my wife.  First, simple jogs a half mile around our local reservoir up to our marathons. In fact I did most of my training runs with her, until recently.  And that change was more due to wanting to let each other go at each others pace than anything else. So running with someone is not foreign to me. 

That said, it has taken awhile to run with other people.  I am definitely comfortable running by myself, either on the trail or on the road.  With the advent of Strava, I have found that I can even challenge myself against other runner times along different "run segments." 

However, over the last couple of years, especially the last 12 months, I have found that I have settled into a consistent 9:47 road run pace and a 12:20 trail pace (depending on the terrain and elevation).  It has been really hard to break out of this pattern also.  For someone who had no problem running at a 8:30 pace at two half marathons, this has been troubling.

The reasons for this is pretty simple and basic. 

First, my volume up to training for the Surf City has been low, in terms of what I used to do.  My cycling had been averaging between 40 to 60 miles a week and my running about 20 miles a week.  I have since upped that; however, am not seeing the gains.

Second, my road running course has been pretty static for the past year and a half.  There are two basic directions I go: along the Embarcadero in San Francisco towards AT&T Park for an average 6 miles or towards the Marina Green through Fisherman's Wharf and Fort Mason.  Other than Strava achievements (which were coming fewer and fewer) there isn't much incentive to run the course fast. 

Third, I am a perfectly complacent trail runner.  Let me clarify.  I love trail running for the challenges and the adventure and variety.  It has really helped drive my love of running and more than makes up for the static road running.  I have seen gains in both my hill climbing and bombing descents.  If there has been any improvement to my pace it is seen there.  However,  having a 11 to 13 minute pace on a good trail run has kind of conditioned me to accepting a slower pace on the roads.  Does that make sense?

Anyway, this brings me to the title of this post.  

For a bit now, I have been trail running with a couple of my friends on Sunday mornings.  They are typically out every weekend beginning at 6 in the morning.  When I join them, about once or twice a month, I can typically keep up even though I am pushing it. 

One of the runners does run at my normal trail pace and it isn’t too rare to see him on other runs during the week at that same pace.  We started running at the same time; however, he has achieved running 50 and 100 mile distances.

The second runner is a jackrabbit. While he hasn’t completed to many long distances recently, he has been able to run some pretty fast marathons in his time.  There are a lot of times when he will continue on the run after I am long finished.

The point is, though; I have really not seen much improvement directly relating to these runs.  Perhaps it’s because we are comfortable at our pace (like when I run with my wife).  Perhaps the trail is an equalizer.  I don’t know.  But other than having company when I am running, I have not seen a performance gain.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy these runs.  And like I said, I do feel as if I a pushed to keep up, it just does not seem to have helped improve my runs.

In contrast, about a month and a half ago, a running group started where I work and now I am starting, finally, to see some improvement in my pace.

I knew the other runners for the last year but for the most part we all went our own ways.  We would even nod and say hi along the way, talk about our runs when we met at the coffee machine, and followed each other on Strava.  Sometimes I would try to keep up with one of them, just a short while, until I settled back into my pace.

Now that we have the running group, like said earlier, my pace is coming down.  This is partly due to the makeup of the group and partly because my pride – I want to keep up with the lead running group! The lead runners, have a good lunchtime pace, with one of the runners that has a 6:30 marathon pace (I could only wish to be 14 years younger!).  While he is at a leisurely jog, he has been able to push us (just a little) faster and faster each time.  I am now starting to see my Strava Achievements increase.

I can say, running with this group has definitely helped with my running.

There is a definite benefit to running with a group.  It helps break out of the doldrums.  When you pick the right group, it can test your ability while getting input from others.  The challenge though is finding the right group to help you get there. Besides picking a group, it is good to switch things up: from the type of group to the terrain and then ability of the members.

So the question really comes down, are group runs helping or just adding to my pace conundrum?  Well my road pace has now moved down to 9:20 which is great news!  But I have also increased my volume (on track for over 40 miles this week) as well as the distance of my long runs (18 miles scheduled for this weekend) has increased.  So has my pace come down because of the running group or because of increased volume?  Who knows?  But I will have to say I am enjoying the group running.

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