July 31, 2011

AC 100 - Being Drawn Back In

“The Mountains are Calling. And I Must Go” 
                          John Muir

Before the start with Bad Rat Tracy M. 
There is so much more I have yet to learn about this sport. So much! And I’m beginning to realize it's what I’m learning that keeps drawing me back into it. Even after deciding to move on with other priorities in my life. I’m drawn back in.
Entering aid station somewhere between mile 25 and 50.
Last weekend was a perfect example. Because last weekend should not have happened, if not for a fate-filled phone call I received but didn’t take, and ultimately couldn’t deny. I’m talking about Angeles Crest 100 miler here, the race I chose not to do, then changed my mind only to line up with all the other nut jobs at the starting line at 5 a.m. Saturday morning  July 23rd.
Its been said that wisdom is learning what to overlook. If you think about it, one has to deduce that the opposite must also be true. After all, how could you know what to overlook if you didn’t know what not to overlook?

negotiating hydro pack while conferring with crew
My plan at AC 100 was first and foremost to finish the race. Why? What I’m learning about this sport is you have to have respect. Respect for the mountain you run on. This I try not to overlook. To go into a 100 mile race with a goal time, if you have never run those mountains, is to not respect the mountains. I don’t believe in this approach and I’ve seen a lot of people who get chewed up and spit out up there who try otherwise. Other than getting lost on a training run, I had never run in the San Gabriels before Angeles Crest 100 mile and I wasn’t about to go in guns blazing.   
There were quite of few learning granules I picked up running AC.  Mainly from things I overlooked:  
Granule number one: incorporate hiking into the training regimen. This course has soooo much climbing up steeps that aren't runnable that you have to prepare accordingly. The climbs up Baden Powell, Mt. Hilliard and Mt. Wilson are the big three, but there are others. Its hard to bounce out of a one or two hour hike and into a solid pace if your not ready for those hikes.
Granule number two: train for the heat. This race used to take place in September, now it's in July, the hottest time of year. Yes there is more daylight in July, but daylight brings heat. I didn't feel cool until the sun was behind the horizon. Even then I ran all night with no shirt on. It's a scorcher out there.
Granule number three: maximize time training on the course. There is no better way to find your advantage out there than to experiment on the trail you'll run on race day. Knowing how long you'll be trudging up a mountain or flying down a canyon is a  huge advantage to everyone.
Other observations:
AC has a lot of running at elevation, even more than I expected. You are flirting between 6'000 to 9'000 feet for first 50 miles. This is much more time at elevation than Western States when you are off the mountains and into the foothills after mile 35. So what about this? Unless you can live and train over 6'000 feet for three weeks or more you have to run carefully for the first half of this race. My heart rate was at least 20 beats per min higher in the first half than in the second, even going conservatively.
Finally, there are some very runnable sections on this course and you have to be prepared for them. Going easy on the first half of the course helped get me through the second half. While I might have gone a little too conservative early on, given my goal to finish and not scorch the trail I’m happy with how I executed the plan. Thanks a million to my crew Trina M and Jeff P and Chris C and Bino M for pacing me.  
All in all another fun day at the office. Now I have to get back to my other office!  

July 25, 2011

Angeles Crest 100 - Cliff Notes

Here is my brief take on last weekend with more to follow...

What a course! Just when you feel like letting loose it roles you up again in a wad and spits you out! The hiking, oh the hiking! Relentless climbs. Started out very conservative in 44th place and slowly made my way to 11th overall, but short of a sub 24 hour time. Not disappointed though because my goal since the day I signed up for AC was to finish this race not for time but to help my chances for the So Cal Ultra Series.

Thanks to Bino and Chris C for pacing me, and Jeff P and Trina M for crewing me!

July 18, 2011

When Going Through Hell, Keep Going

A bright sun was shinning over my head. But every step I took was into darkness. I was struggling just to hang on. My stomach, legs and feet had all abandoned me. My mind was now slipping.

I recently wrote that running ultras is more about trust in yourself than your god given talent. Sometimes things can get really bleak out there. As if you’re going through hell. But if you keep moving forward, despite your state, eventually you can get through it. And when you do, when you make it through hell, you can learn a lot about yourself.

My very first trail race I was going through hell. My body started to shut down. I couldn’t eat or drink. I could barely walk. I felt helpless. The feeble thoughts that occupied my mind were like gasoline feeding the flames around me. As I stumbled along in this hapless state, I was interrupted by the sound of footsteps behind me. I turned to see an elderly runner approaching. He slowed to inquire about my condition. He then reached into his pocket and handed me a small white tablet. "Take this, it will fix your problem."

As I reached out to take the pill from his hand, I noticed he was smiling. He explained to me that my electrolytes were out of balance. I didn't question or doubt him. I believed him and took the pill. From a total stranger. Within 5 minutes I started to feel better, good enough to finish the race. I’ve been using Succeed Tabs as a runner ever since that moment.

Wisdom comes from many places.  But mostly it comes from just being on trail, in the elements, seeking answers. If you have trust, wisdom will smile on you. 

July 11, 2011

Running In Life's Balance (pub. Ultra Running Mag. 9/2011)

A friend of mine once said it. No matter how focused you are on your training. No matter how committed you might be to accomplishing a goal. Sometimes life gets in the way. After 23 years of running, I’m still learning how not to fight this rule, but to embrace it.

This morning I hitched a tandem up to my mountain bike and my seven year old and I rode around our neighborhood. We stopped at a playground and I pushed her on a huge tire swing. She laughed and giggled as I spun her. Then we rode away until we arrived at a coffee shop where we stopped for a snack and I played music for her on my IPhone.

My difficulty is this. I have a hard time hitching tandems, or pushing tire swings, even hearing giggles when I’m hunkering down for a 100 mile race. Its not easy to explain, but it is easy to understand. Life is a plethora of priorities. But for each priority I choose today, I must also choose to put off another for tomorrow.

Over the last six months I’ve been hunkering down a lot, training and racing more than I ever have. But recently I’ve come to realize that sometimes running gets in the way. I have no regrets about my running, and its been a great year for me. I’ve learned a lot about myself. I’ve also learned that running is a really just a metaphor for life. The ups and downs that it brings. I’ve faced some challenges in my races this year. Yet overcoming these has helped me build confidence and trust in myself along the way.

I recently wrote that it's the simple things, those that we take for granted, that matter the most. The moonlit path under a steely blue horizon during an ultra. Surely we all need to be carried away on our own moonlit path. But for the beginning of every path there is also an end. And we need to notice when we arrive at the end of these paths. And when we do, we just might find someone there for us, laughing and giggling.

Yes, it’s the simple things. They matter the most.

July 3, 2011

Lost and Loathing On The AC Trail

What, we're lost? How do you use this compass anyway?

I spent the better part of today on the Angeles Crest trail with two very cool runners, Travis C and Larry R. Until two weeks ago I’d never set foot on the AC trail so today offered a great opportunity to see some of what’s in store come July 23. 
Larry R and Travis C
We ran the last 25 miles of the course from Chantry to the finish. All was going swimmingly until we hit Millard campground, mile 95ish on the course and site of the last aid station. Following what looked like the course trail according to the map, we sauntered down along a creek until we got to a place that looked like it had been blown up by a tsunami. Only tsunamis don’t make it as high as the San Gabriel Mountains. But the trail had vanished!  So whatever hit it, even if it wasn’t a tsunami, must have been as big as one. Trees were obliterated, rocks and branches strewn about. But I’m really not complaining about the lost trail. Because a wrong trail that is lost is much better than a wrong trail that isn’t. Get it?    

The Bug Man from the Gardening Shop
So then we turned around. And climbed. And climbed. And complained. And complained a little more. Until we came upon this eerie cabin with abandoned cars and surreal looking dolls staring out of the abandoned cars. It was zany here. So Larry R decided to knock on the door to find something. Like where the F#Vk-are-we? Or where the h3#L do we need to go? He knocked. And just like that, no one answered! Uhmm....isn't this is a good thing? 

So then we kept running. And running. And wondering. And wondering where the hell we were. Until we came upon a man behind a bush. This man showed not his face, nor his body. Just water from a hose was all we could see. I semi-yelled “Excuse Me! Where is Loma Alta park?” And the man behind the bush spoke to us in clear sentences as if he spoke to everyone from behind a bush. “Oh just turn right once your down the road”, he said with no discernable face or body parts. “Thank you man behind the bush” I thought to him as we continued running into our unfinished abyss.

From here we ran over a paved road with lots of turns and houses along the side. Finally, after battling heat, smog, flies, a bugman, self doubt, tsunamis, and a bushman, finally, we found our pot of gold.

But Travis, Larry and I never did see a rainbow!