Monday, March 10, 2014

Way Too Cool Not To Finish

It was a beautiful morning to race the Way Too Cool 50K.  With the race time temperature in the low 40’s I was excited to get going.  There were well over 1,200 for the 25th anniversary running of the race which meant a wave start for the race, which was great for a slow poke for me.  At the end, Chris Vargo won the race in a blazing 3:16:51 hours quickly followed by Alex Varner at 3:17:04.  The duo were a full 18 minutes from the pack with Jason Rydman finishing still at a fast 3:35:56.  For a mere mortal like me finishing at 8:08 these times are incredible.

The course is beautiful, beginning with an eight mile mostly single track (the first 1.5 miles is on asphalt) loop that covers beautiful rolling hills above a bluff that overlooks the American River.  Since we have finally been getting rain here in California, the creeks were full which meant a couple knee to thigh-high crossings to clean off your shoes from the muddy slop that you would sometimes run through.  Since there was a two wave start, for the first time for this race, and I was in the second wave the single track was not too congested.
On the way back on the loop, I saw my wife and kids and gave them high fives as I passed before dropping into the more difficult parts of the race.

The next section of the race drops down into the American River Canyon.  The decent went pretty fast and uneventful – sans kicking a rock and almost taking a face plant.  This section did get muddy at times but went pretty fast to the Lower Quarry Aid station.

After the Lower Quarry Aid Station, I was treated to a run next to the river.  This part of the trail is more like fire trail with a good portion of it on unmaintained asphalt.  At times we climbed up some nice little hills only to drop back down to the river.  I found myself starting to slow down, but my strategy was to be able to keep somewhat of a healthy pace until the major climb out of the Canyon.  However, with each small hill I found myself slowing.  

I made it to the Maine Bar Aid station in no time which picked my spirits up just a bit.  Memorizing the map as well as the sign post indicated that I had 4.3 miles to the next aid station at the top of the canyon.  However, the location of the aid station did not align with where my watch indicated we were.  Come to find out from other runners who have done the course before that the aid station was in the wrong place meaning that the next aid would be at 6.5 miles instead of the 4.3.

So at mile 17 the climb out of the canyon began.  I was initially overtaken by the beauty of this area, so many waterfalls and creek crossings.  Then the reality hit of how long this hill is.  It was brutal four mile climb with some very steep grade sections.  Now I love up hill, but with the limited training schedule after Surf City, I can say my training suffered and it showed up here.  By mile 19 I was done and by mile 20ish I had decided that I would be dropping at the ALT aid station at mile 21.1.  I was sore and aching with all of my focus being on that instead of finishing.

I had reached the lowest point I have had in a race for some time when low and behold a stone bench appeared above the trail. I took a moment and climbed up and sat just to take in the view of the canyon below.  It was gorgeous.  A flock of birds flew in formation with a loud squawking noise.  A couple of runners looked up at me with an odd expression on their faces.  Another jokingly stated that there was no sitting in trail running and that I must have been listening to too many fast runners on the podcasts (and she was right).  After about five minutes I decided it was time to go but before I did, I realized my back was up against a plaque.  This spot was dedicated to a  Barbara Barsalou Schoener, a trail runner and mother of two who was killed by a mountain lion attack in 1994 near this spot.  I could see why her loved ones put this bench in this spot to commemorate her.  

This stop invigorated my and I found my pain was somewhat gone as well as my thoughts of dropping.  This was further solidified when I got to the ALT aid station to know I still had over a 30 minute lead over the cut-off so I would finish.  So after a Madeline dipped in salt and a couple of cups of Sprite, I was off.  I wanted at least to get to Goat Hill to see what the entire hullabaloo was about.

The next 5.3 miles was awesome and I ran a lot of it.  This was gorgeous terrain with several more creek crossings.  By this time, I realized that I had made a poor decision to leave my camera because I could have easily taken a lot of pictures on this race.  If I haven’t said it before, this is one beautiful course.  I came across one lady who had her sons Flat Stanly and commented on how awesome that was then joked with her about no pacers being allowed.  We laughed and made the time go by.  I was feeling no pain at this point that is until Goat Hill.
Goat Hill occurs right at about mile 26.2, marathon distance.  It is a single track trail with 20% grade with some switch back for 0.2 miles.  I had been looking forward to this wall since I had heard about it and to experience it this late in the race was fun while challenging.  Because of the rain, the last two hundred feet was a slop fest with a small little stream coming down at you.  

At the top I was met with the best run aid station of the entire race, however there was a little bit of drama occurring.  A little boy that had been helping had disappeared so a couple of the aid staff were searching for him.  Then just moments after I arrived, the boy arrived with the safety patrol runner.  He had taken after the safety patrol runner and was well halfway to the other aid station before he was turned around and back with his family.  That said, the other aid station workers really were a crack team and they took care of all the runners very efficiently.

With the Goat Hill behind me now and knowing that there were only 4.7 mile to go and feeling great, I was in get er’ done mode. I knew I was going to finish and there was still a strong possibility that I could still finish under 8 hours.  However, the clock was slowly ticking and by the time I had gotten to the last aid station 1.1 mile from the finish I had 15 minutes to be under that point.  

I quickly realized that I would not be able to achieve this feat with some pretty fun and challenging technical up hill.  There were a lot of roots and rocks and streams of mud to overcome before getting to the last 0.5 victory lap. 
With one last splash through a muddy puddle and high fives from family and friends I got to the finish at 8:08 hours.  

I can say I loved this race just for the shear amount of single track as well as the technical aspects of the course.  This is a beautiful course and, other than the misplaced aid station, well run.  I would probably run this race again; however my training would be more focused on this race, especially uphill.  And I probably would not be doing a road marathon 5 weeks earlier like I did here.

A shout out to Brazen Racing - I saw a lot of the Brazen Racing family there.  RD Sam and Jasmin were running this race with Sam’s brother.  Marie would jump out periodically to take pictures of us at different times ( how she got so quickly to the various spots before any of the runners really surprised me!).  One runner I came across had a Bay Breeze race shirt on which is one of Brazen Racing’s flattest half marathon races.   We joked how this race was just like that one if you take out the hills with 20% grades and shortened it to a 13.1 mile distance. In fact, I would say race shirt/logo wise, Brazen was well represented.

In all, this was a great race.  I learned a lot about pushing through and overcoming.  And as I stated in my last post, there was no time goals here, just to finish and to have fun.  Mission accomplished!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Am I Ready to be Way Too Cool?

Mount Diablo facing Wall Road Trail

The past 5 weeks since the Surf City Marathon has flown by with the Way Too Cool 50K being this weekend.  The compressed recovery, training, taper has been strange and has left a little bit of uncertainty about my readiness.  This is partially due to some of my training choices but I have little doubt I will finish.  I have focused on quality instead of quantity runs so hopefully this plays well for the race this Saturday.

Recovery from Surf City was pretty uneventful.  I was amazed how well I felt directly after the run as well as the following week.  In fact, my pace on my recovery runs were close to my normal training (I know you shouldn’t do this) which lead to questioning how much I may have left on the race course.  But the subsequent mid-week runs have been fun and uneventful.

Since there is a bit of downhill on the race, the couple of trail training runs focused on downhill.  The last run in particular, two weeks out from the race I might add, was a strictly downhill run from the top of Mount Diablo down to Castle Rock Regional Park.  This was an 11.5 mile 4,500 foot elevation drop run with the sole purpose of beating up my quads and developing DOMS (delayed muscle soreness).

So this may seem counter intuitive. But keep in mind that the week leading up to Surf City Marathon and the couple of weeks after I did not run hills.  So I needed to rebuild my hill legs, specifically my downhill quad durability.  I have also read several studies over the years specifically focusing on downhill running and the effects a couple of weeks after the run.  These studies found that the quad muscles rebuild in such a way that within two weeks maximum adaptation to running downhill has occurred.

So the upside was DOMS was accomplished at this run.  The downside, I couldn’t run 5 days later, so definitely too much downhill! And I could definitely use the taper mileage after. But, I am pretty confident now that that I am ready for the 3 miles of downhill at mile 9. 

Since I experienced the DOMS, taper has been pretty much non-existent.  I did do a my last run today with the lunchtime running group at work and felt pretty good.  This was pretty much to shake out the cobwebs in my legs as well as my mind.  The legs are fresh and ready to go for Saturday.

This will be the first race in a few years that I have not run at least part of the course and this has been psyching me out a little. At this point, the distance and elevation is not scary, that is just part of the run.  What I am a bit clueless on is the terrain and what to expect.  I have read a lot of race reports and looked at the associated pictures (thanks again to Mr.NotthatLucas (not his real name)!) but I don’t like that I have the feel of the trail.

For example, it has been raining off and on for the last couple of weeks.  I do know we have several creek crossings so will there be a lot or little water in the creeks?  Also, how much mud will there be on the trail versus rock and technical since California has been in a drought?  The first eight miles is relatively tame; however, because of the single track at this part of the course, how do I place myself at the start so I don’t go out too fast or too slow?

Looking back towards the top of Mount Diablo from Wall Road.
One element I have added to my run is taking an electrolyte during the run.  After my pace falloff at mile 18 at Surf City, the realization that I had not taken electrolyte up to that point was glaring.  As I stated in my previous post, my primary source of fuel is PocketFuel so I steered clear of the electrolyte drink at the marathon because I did not want to add the sugar.  I will be using Hammer Endurolytes and hopefully this will address this problem.

It is going to be a beautiful day with temperatures in the low 70’s at race finish.  With the uncertainties with this race, I will not declare a time goal even though I have a few.  And because of the uncertainties with this race, I am finding that I am a bit more excited about it and will be having more fun with it.  To finish, run strong, and to have fun….that is the goal!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Injinji Review

So I really have never been someone who gave much thought to socks, especially ones that are designed for a specific activity other than ski socks to keep my feet warm.  So I have been getting the typical sock at Target, playing around with compression or not, traditional crew, ankle high, low profile, etc.  I have been wearing gaiters on my trail shoes so I really only put on whatever sock that matched. I mean really what is the purpose of socks anyway?

Here’s the problem though: I have been blessed with long toes including Morton toes on both feet.  This means that my socks rub against the top of my nails as I run, just like finger nails across a chalk board.  And while I have never had good nails, running has only caused me to lose toe nails on some and have unusual growth patterns on others.  I also have developed calluses on the tips on some of the toes that sometimes add to some of the pain when they have a sock pressed against them.  I have played around with some of the more expensive running socks, but really have never seen much difference in how my feet felt.  And since these socks cost between $10 and $20 a pair, it is hard to justify the purchase.

So recently I found myself in the San Francisco Running Company and asked elite ultra-runner Jorge Marivilla about socks.  Ok, I know what you are saying, you asked him about socks?  Not his awesome performance at Bandera 100?  Socks?  Really? Well yes, that is exactly what I did.

I explained how I really have not given much thought about socks and the issues stated above.  I also mentioned to him that I was running the Surf City Marathon in a couple of weeks as well as the Way Too Cool 50K five weeks after so I wanted to make sure that I could minimize some of the toe issues I have had in the past.

After discussing the Drymax socks in the store, he directed me to the Injinji 2.0 toe socks.  These are toe socks, in other words gloves for your feet.  To be frank, I have heard a lot about these socks on the different podcasts; however, I have shied away from them due to my Morton’s toe.  However, he explained how these are his go to socks, making sure  that he has at least a pair in his drop bags in the different transitions.  In fact, he even mentioned that he kind of wished he could be sponsored by them because he loves the product so much.

The Injingi 2.0 comes in two primary styles: road and trail.  They also come in crew, ankle and low profile as well as different thickness.  Since the first race on the schedule would be a road marathon, I chose road.  Since I had a couple weeks to try them out, I wouldn’t have too much of a problem deciding if on race day these would be the socks, low profile, but a heavier weight.  I also only bought one pair, since like I stated above, at $15 I have a hard time justifying a purchase of more than one pair.

Boy, this was a good decision.  I love these socks.  My toes feel free in the toe box instead of being bound together by the traditional sock.  I am also noticing that since each toe is isolated, my calluses are disappearing as well as the unusual nail growth.  My fear that these toes would not be good for my Morton’s toe were actually misguided and I have found that these are actually the best socks for my toe, I did not lose these nails for the first time after a long endurance run.   While I have never suffered from blisters, these socks did not cause any blisters either.

Well, since I run a lot on the trail, I have since bought a pair of the trail socks.  Again, I love how my toes feel free in the toe box.  In fact I really like how they feel as I am bounding downhill or facing technical single track.  While I initially showed some hesitation thinking that I would not like the glove feel of these socks, I am finding that I really don’t notice that they are on like I did with other socks.

I can definitely say that I have finally found my “running sock” and will slowly be building up my supply.   That is unless Injinji would like to sponsor me!  However, I am just another lowly mid to back of the pack runner.  Oh well.  I would recommend these socks.
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