Saturday, August 23, 2014

Bear Creek Half Marathon and Fine Tuning Nutrition

Source: Brazen Volunteer
I have to say I like to throw in a trail half marathon every once in a while.  Mind you my running over the last a couple months has been without much if any elevation.  So I knew signing up for the Bear Creek Half Marathon with about 3,000 feet of elevation gain was going to be a bit of a challenge.  Add in that it is August in the East Bay and this is probably one of the historically hottest half marathons that Brazen Racing does.  OK then, sign me up!  Sorry quads.

Source Brazen Volunteer
At least I knew a bit about the course.  Covering much of the Briones Regional Park, I had at least run half of it and could be strategic when to kick in and hold back.  The elevation gain though is a bit deceptive.  There are not many long climbs, but the combined effect really compiles over time.  And, there are a couple pretty long declines which are sure to demolish your quads if you haven’t trained for it.

It was overcast at race time.  Of course we all hoped that it would stay around for the entire race; however, we knew that was a bit optimistic.  The first three miles is a slow subtle climb to the top of the first hill.  This section was new to me and on the elevation chart, I thought this was going to be the toughest of the climbs.  

Source: Allen Lucas
However, I was very much aware of the following descent, a little more of a mile of well-groomed fire trail.  Mount Diablo was starting to show behind the different layers of fog and mist which provided an awesome picture opportunity.  Unfortunately for me, this is when my phone camera decided to go on the blink.  I had been looking forward to this section and opened up my pace, fully aware of the results that would show up a couple of days after.

At the bottom I caught up with Tony (Endorphin Dude) which was nice.  Our paths have crossed before but this time I got to hear about his first 100 mile attempt and his desire to qualify for Western States.  He had been doing fine for the first 80 miles, ahead of his goal time, and then had a really tough 6 miles to miss the cutoff by 12 minutes.  Next up is Rocky Raccoon.

The Wall - Source: Allen Lucas
After a couple of miles up and down, roller-coaster type single track, I began the next climb beginning with single track trail out of the Alhambra Staging area.  I am used to running this section at the beginning of a run and typically with a headlamp, so it was nice to see it in the light for a change.  The feature though on this trail is an approximately 30 foot “wall” of a hill and hitting it at mile 7 was a big challenge.  With heart rate through the roof, I stopped for a break at the top of it.

The next section is a slow steady climb up to the “Lagoon” which are a couple of twin ponds followed by the drop into the valley.  The rest of the race would be in areas I had not run and I had thought, again referencing the elevation map, I had passed my final big climb.  The heat was on and we were full exposed to the sun which seemed to sap much of our strength.  By the time we got to the aid station at about mile 10, I was spent.  But wait, more climbing?

Yep, and this was probably the steepest section of the race (with the exception of the 30 foot stint at mile 7) and took us up onto the ridge overlooking Walnut Creek and Lafayette.  It was a gorgeous view.  I had left Tony (Endorphin Dude) back before mile 7, so I wasn’t surprised that he caught up with me on the ridge.  He asked if there were any more hills and thankfully I could confirm that there was nothing left but a very steep drop into the valley right around the corner.  Now last year, our family worked the last aid station which was at the base of the final downhill.  I remembered how people really struggled going down so I was prepared and excited.  This would be the final masochistic romp on my quads so I had to make it count.  With little trepidation I ran down the hill like a champ.

The final climb to the finish. Source: Allen Lucas
At the final aid station I chomped on some watermelon and started the final single track.  Last year, this was full of poison oak; however, this year Brazen went out the day before to remove most of it from the trail.    This is an awesome section which affords a triumphant final mile before the finish if you have any energy left.

At the finish, my wife was waiting as well as the kids with an “Its It” ice cream sandwich at the ready.  I finished in 3 hours and 15 minutes.   I had no expectations going into this race so I was extremely happy with this run and my effort.  

Strava stats found here.

Things I learned - Nutrition

As I have written in the past, I have really been playing around with my nutrition.  I have really never gotten it dialed in.  Up to this point I have stayed away from Gel’s like the plague, using either Pocket Fuel (a nut butter whole food blend) or Clif Builder Bars.  That changed when I discovered Gu’s Roctane at the Way Too Cool 50K.  It was during the last 10 miles of the race, ready to try anything to help me finish that I found that it picked me up, at least that is what I wanted to believe.

Photo: Last minute reminder that Bear Creek registration prices go up at midnight.  T-shirt order and custom bib orders also go in tomorrow morning, so if you like saving a little money, being guaranteed your shirt size or having your name pre-printed on your bib, now is a great time to sign up!
Cool Shirt Logo Too!  Source: Brazen Racing
Roctane is different from standard Gu formula by adding histidine, branched chain amino acids, and citrates. " Plus the addition of OKG, an amino acid complex that lessens damage to muscle tissue during hard training or racing and speeds recovery," according to the Gu website.  Since this formula focuses on the needs of the long endurance runner, I wanted to see if I would have the power swings that I have had with past Gel products.  What was reassuring was that each Roctane was to be consumed at 45 minute intervals.  

I also had at my disposal 4 different varieties: Vanilla Orange, Chocolate Raspberry, Strawberry Kiwi, and Cherry Lime.  I would have to say Vanilla Orange and Cherry Lime are winners and I will pass on the Chocolate Raspberry (too thick in texture if that makes sense).

I figured that this would be a good setting to see if Roctane would be a good primary fuel source.  Yes I know, I could do this on a training run and trying something new on race day is ill advised.  But keep in mind I had already tried this at as a last resort at Way Too Cool.  I would have to say the strategy worked as well if not better than when I was using the nut butters.  I had no blood sugar /power swings and the 45 minute duration was perfect.  The only challenge I had, and this is something I need to figure out if I will continue with Roctane has to with my water intake.  I found that my gag reflex would kick in when I drank water due to residual “gunk” at the back of my throat.  I am not sure if this is because of the gel or if it was because of the heat, so I will be keeping my eye on this.  To get around it during this race, I would eat a slice of watermelon to “clean the pallet” which eased the gagging. 

All in all, a good training race for upcoming endeavors.  And thank you Mr. NotThatLucas for taking such wonderful pictures to share.

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