Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Bay to Breakers

This past weekend we ran one of the largest foot races in the world. More than 60,000 people take part, many without a number. I came 7334th (being narrowly beaten by Patty who came 7333rd).

We entered this circus because I used to watch it and be amazed at how many people could get up on a Sunday morning and run 12km (7.5 miles) across the whole city. At the time that seemed a pretty long way. At best back then I'd run a couple of miles anaerobically on a gym treadmill. Running on a road, for that distance, was unimaginable. So this year it was a running goal to enter it, do it, run the whole thing including the dreaded Hayes St Hill and put that one to rest.

For bonus measure, we decided we'd do it, and then we'd turn around at the finish line and run back downtown. This would get us our 13 mile long run. And it would save us each $7 to take the special bus back. And, we'd rock.

The race started with us standing in Zone 2. That meant there were 3 city blocks of people ahead of us. Tortillas flew threw the air and occasionally spin into the back of our heads. They almost hurt. I lifted my foot to stretch, a difficult act in itself in the confined space, and noted that the bottoms of my shoes were now tortilla covered too.

Soon the count down began and we were off. Actually, of course, we just stood there. This year they had timing chips and so it wasn't a big deal. Up ahead, a long way ahead, you could see heads start to bob. A wave of bobbing coming towards us at a snails pace. When it hit us, we started to bob too. A walking kind of bob.

Almost 9 minutes later we crossed the start line and broke into a slow shuffle. Then back to walking. Then the shuffle. Then walk. Then something like a slow run. Then there it stayed, a slow run. For miles.

Just before The Hill, Kelly and her Grandpa were waiting for us. Kelly was later given a string of beads by a naked man. That's an education for her. She enjoyed the spectacle. We stopped for a couple of minutes and chatted with them, then slow ran it towards the hill. Our pace was greater than a 12:00 at this point, possible closer the 13:00. Flying!

Up the hill we went and it was fine. In fact it felt good. All the hill work has made a big difference. There started to be some open space and we even picked it up. Pretty soon we hit the top and started the journey down to the coast. At this point we noticed there was few walkers and people were moving much faster.

Photo: Novato Advance

The rest of the race was pretty easy and passed quickly. We settled into a comfortable 10:00-10:30 pace for much of it always mindful of the return trip we still had ahead. There was probably faster miles in there too. Running felt good in the park with a slight cool breeze and a clear blue sky and everything was bathed in the morning light at our backs. We stopped for water a couple of times for practice and I had some luck with grabbing the back of the cup and squeezing it to make a mouth opening and drinking while moving.

I'm not sure where the 6 or 7 mile marks were, but we hit the end of the park all of a sudden and ran out onto ocean road and headed to the finish. I kicked at the end and probably passed 200 people in the process. We had lots left, I wish I could finish all races with so much to spare.

We crossed the finishing mats. Beep. Grabbed a couple of bottles of water and then after a few minutes of walking picked up to a jog again and started to head back up through the park. Initially this felt awful, but it settled down to being just unpleasant.

Half way up the park we rejoined the race (us headed the wrong way). We stayed over on the sidewalk and it didn't really cause a problem. A few others were either walking or running back too. Most people in the race were walking by now, but there was still thousands of them. Many were really just wandering around drunk. Or dancing on truck rooves. Or lying face down in the park. Or lined up at a port-a-potty. By the time we hit the panhandle it was mostly people who had no intention of finishing.

At this point we hit the regular streets and made our way towards to the BART station. By now we were both pretty beat and the concrete downhill pounding, raising day temperature, increasing dehydration and the constant start. stop. of the traffic lights was pretty brutal.

But eventually we were there. Reflecting what it would have been like to turn around and run another 13 miles, like we'll have facing us in the marathon, was not a happy thought.

Across the road was a Rite Aid where we wandered the around looking for calories for a while. I came out with a King Size Snickers bar and a 32 Oz Gatorade. The Snickers bar vanished instantaneously. The Gatorade followed fairly quickly.

So, would I do it again? Well, in a way I'd have liked to have actually raced it. So maybe one year we'll do that. The race itself was fun and the costumes and general madness were worth being involved with, once at least. If you're going to try and afford to live in the Bay Area it's worth being part of what it has to offer. Not everything has to be a race, so once you let go of that, realize you can't run this fast anyway, then you set the running on cruise control and enjoy the show. So yes, I'd do it again. It's funner than it looks.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007


A running update on several fronts.

1) The hill running is starting to pay off. My run up Park Blvd, 1.5 miles straight uphill followed by a steep drop into and out of a canyon, then a downhill return, has gotten noticeably faster and at a lower HR. Last week's pace was 11:51 (avg HR=158). A month ago the pace was 12:16 (avg HR=162). Back in November last year, the first time I ran this route, my pace was 14:00!

2) Last week was my longest week ever: 24 miles (5:00 hours). On top of that I got in some stretching and strength training and went for a Sunday morning hike. Sure, the theory is that my marathon training will peak at a 40 mile week, and the marathon, at 26.2 miles, is longer even by itself, but this is still progress. Last time I ventured over 20 miles (much faster build up than this time), I self-destructed. This time I'm ready to run some more.

3) Longest ever training run: 12 miles. Yes, I've gone 13.1 in a race, but this was the longest self motivated run. It was also a trail run, with climb/loss 1750 ft so it felt like an epic.

We spent the weekend camped in San Mateo Memorial Park, which is between Silicon Valley and the coast in surprisingly beautiful coastal mountains filled with windy roads and redwood groves and misty open space ridge tops.

On Saturday, our long run day, we drove up to one of these ridge tops to run 6 miles each way from Russian Ridge to Horseshoe Lake in Skyline Ridge Open Space and back.

It was a tough run with almost none of it being flat. The first mile of the trail was tight single track which had been cut into a V shape by the mountain bikers, surrounded on both sides by waist-high grass. This made for terrible running and during this section we were imagining that 12 miles was going to take all day.

Fortunately the rest of the trail was either more standard gauge single track or wide fire roads. The return trip after the lake was much faster; we knew how far we had to go and could moderate our energy usage appropriately. That makes a big difference. Patty took the lead in powering up most of the hills and we both put in a fast final quarter mile to cap it off.

In three weeks we are scheduled to do the Lake Chabot Trail Challenge, a half marathon, so this was perfect practice for that. That promises lots of elevation gain. But before that, this weekend, is the infamous Bay to Breakers which we plan to run double (out and back).

Saturday, May 5, 2007


My commute went up in flames this week and it's making me grumpy. It made news world wide. "Peter's commute went to hell" said the headlines.

Last Sunday a Gas Tanker lost control and exploded melting the I-580 East overpass (it then fell down like a giant molten blanket across an I-880 connector). The 580 section is the freeway that gets me home each night and there are no options. Traffic is now using Oakland city streets which have become a giant mess. Bottom line: getting home by bus is now 45 minutes longer and will be for the next 2 months while they rebuild this.

And that's 45 minutes I could be running!

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

High altitude training

This is really a post about something other than running. This past weekend we finally made it to the snow, what little remains, and got in some very late season fun.

We left early and the day was already warm in Oakland. We drove east to the town of Davis in the central valley and stopped and had breakfast, then took in some of the farmers market across the road. Kelly rode the old merry-go-round which is powered my someone pedaling! We also watched some hula dancing. The pickings at the market are still slim but we did buy some cheese, bread rolls and slightly too early strawberries there before heading towards the mountains.

Up into the mountains we drove thinking it was too late. In fact there was so little snow that we ended up at Donner Summit, the highest point as I-80 crosses the Sierras, as it was the only area with snow at highway level. With so little snow up in the mountains people around here are now talking about water restrictions this summer. I remember last year people saying there was so much snow pack that there'd not be restrictions for years to come. Ah, easy come easy go.

It turns out, however, that the little snow we found was perfect for what we wanted: some snow play. Usually we head down back roads until we can find a plowed pullout or jeep road. We get out, climb the bank, and make our own fun away from the crowds. At this time of year, even along I-80, there wasn't any crowds. We parked in a snow play area just below Donner Summit and headed off to find a sled run.

Patty crossed the river first. I stood back uncertain her idea was sound. She prodded the middle of what was admittedly a small stream with a stick and then with hardly a hesitation leaped into ankle deep water and headed upstream along the middle to a place where she could cross the snow bank on the other side. Kelly and I followed, impressed.

The other side was sledding heaven. Someone had built a long chute which we could use. Here's Patty making a run...

And there were little hills that Kelly improvised her own 'butt slide' on...

We built a snow man, of course...

And later, Kelly also went down the main sled run by herself, a first...

We probably stayed for about an hour. The air was warm, there was nobody else there, the sled run was ideal and our snowman rocked. What could be better? So what if we were on the only snow patch in the Sierras!