Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Week 13

Our biggest week so far (and what may prove to be my biggest), and not at all unlucky.

Distance: 35.4 miles on a plan of 36.
Duration: 7hrs 18min

Well, last week was great. A complete change from the sad tale that was getting through a 16-miler with a knife stabbed into the back of my foot. The mid-week runs are taking up a lot of time so I've been working at home a lot, or trying to slot them in really early.

Mid-week runs:
Tuesday's run was at my old nemesis, the Lafayette-Moraga Regional trail. It follows an old mule train route where loggers once pulled redwoods from the hills and carted them to Sacramento. Later a steam train ran along part of the route. Today it's a stretch of pavement with a 'linear park' on either side. It gives you 7 or 8 miles each way of relatively uninterrupted pavement and pleasant enough scenery to look at. For a rail trail, it's also decently hilly. We ran just 4 miles. Map.

Wednesday we were back out to the same area to run around a canal trail. The Walnut Creek area (which I used to associate with hellish shopping, baking heat, and misguided visits to The Container Store) actually has these canals everywhere. I suppose once upon a time the whole thing must have flooded all the time. There's water control infrastructure everywhere. These canals are not canals like Venice, however, more like irrigation concrete channels that are mostly about 6 feet or so across. If you like concrete canals, then you'd like these. They do have wildlife sometimes, which right now means there's baby mallard spotting to be had. There's almost nothing cuter than a baby duck sliding down a concrete bank. Anyway, several of these long canals have trails next to them. Wednesday's run was 9 miles east from Walden Park in the middle of Walnut Creek, out to the hills on the Contra Costa Canal Trail. Then we turned south and travel up along the hillside, eventually passing under a road in a pretty cool tunnel. This section, being up high, is actually quite pretty. You can't even spot the Container Store, just trees mostly. Then it's back on a different canal through mostly residential areas along the Ygnacio Canal Trail. Map.

Thursday's 5M run was from home down to Lake Merritt-a pretty well trodden route. It felt so good I picked up the pace and ran it as a tempo run. I hadn't had the energy for that kind of thing since the whole 3 races in 3 weeks thing.

Long run:
This was all, of course, just a warm up for Saturday's long run. We decided that running a safe route, flat and easy, was just not for us. I was probably still a little crazy from my tempo run, and plus, the Western States Endurance Run (100 miles through the Sierras) was simultaneously off and running (a friend of ours was pacing), so we felt like something more adventurous than running along I-80 for 4 hours. So instead we headed out to the hills, to Tilden regional park where the LMJS running club was meeting.

The first section of the run was what the organizer Karen described as flat. Well maybe "with a hill in the middle, but mostly flat". In what universe was that flat? Not a flat universe, that's for sure. Most of it was, however, runnable hills. Except the one in the middle, which we walked some of. This section took us from the Little Farm parking lot north through Wildcat canyon to the Wildcat staging area, and back. It was pretty enough in there, and definitely better than running along the interstate. But somehow it wasn't quite trail running. At about 4 miles along a woman stopped us (who actually stops runners?) and asks if we could give our water to her dog. We look at her dog and it looks fine. She's less than a mile from her car and we're out for an 18 miler. We say sorry and keep running. After 9 miles we were back near our car, and those in the club doing just the Half headed to the parking lot. We stopped short of there at a drinking fountain and filled up and ate. After chatting to a couple of runners we started our second leg. A couple who is doing the marathon opted to get in their 18miles by running the first 9 miles again. We thought about it for a moment and again decided adventure needed to come first.

We headed up the road less travelled, more or less up the side of a mountain. We ran for an acceptably long time and then eventually started to walk. As the walking was getting tough we turned our walk break into a stop break. At the top was a paved section called Nimitz Way where the Tilden Tough Ten is held each year. We started to run again, but something was up. My HR was high, and quick to anger. Patty figured I was having some problems and gave me her bottle which had Cytomax in it. Now, I don't mean to promote Cytomax, or to appear like I believe a thing of their (FDA has not verified) claims, but that stuff is great. Half a mile later I'd gotten about 20 Oz of fluid in me and I was back on track.

Math interlude:
Now, I take from this that I need more water than I'd drunk up until that point. That is, in 10 or so miles I had drunk about 2 bottles worth of water, or around 3-4 oz per mile. This was pretty much in line with my pre-run plan. But on a warm but not hot day, that wasn't enough. In the following mile I drank another 20 oz and that set me right. About 50% more liquid. So, based on that, if I up my intake to 4-5 oz per mile, then in the race that's 8-10 oz an aid station which means getting a whole cup down plus some. In the race, this also means about 24 oz per hour, which is well below the 30 oz per hour considered dangerous. Also, note to self. Cytomax rocks.

At inspiration point we'd stashed more water, more Cytomax and a couple of Cliff Shots. We ate a little, refilled out bottles and then headed off. The next section was really tough. It took us up hundreds more feet along a spectacular ridge line. But mostly we were annoyed that a lot of this wasn't really runnable. Sure, it was a great workout, but we also needed just long running. After a few miles we reached the highest point. Some hikers were there looking at the view that extended for miles both inland and across the bay. In the distance was San Francisco, our marathon course. We were looking down on the whole city thinking that at least no hill was going to be as high as that one in the course.

By the time we returned to our car we'd covered around 17.5 miles in a slow but grueling 4 hours on the trails. We were beat. The gain/loss was over 2500ft not counting all the small hills. It was pretty rough.

Recovery Peter and Patty style:

1) Ice water in the car. Start drinking.
2) Start replacing calories. One Mocho Freddo (large) from Peets Coffee. This is a chocolate shake with coffee in it. They are beyond good, and not really that bad for you if you don't get the whipped cream.
3) 2 Super burritos (one each). I went with Veggie. Patty had smelled grilling meat somewhere on our run as we past near a picnic area and had partially turned into a grizzly bear ready to kill for meat. She went with the steak.
4) Ice bath. Filled half way with cold tap water. Add ice. Not so it's a slushy, just enough to put a chill into it. Soak for 10 minutes. Do not share. It heats the water up too fast and isn't romantic. Also, you need a clock. It's a long 10 minutes.
5) Lots of Advil. 800mg is a good place to start.
6) Sleep. 1 hour of quality napping.
7) Next day:recovery walk. One 3M lap of the lake works well.

Woodminster XC

The Dick Houston Memorial Woodminster is a cross country race here in Oakland now in its 42nd year. You might not normally associate Oakland with cross country racing opportunity, but in fact Oakland is bordered to the East with beautiful hills that hold some great trail running. Redwood shaded creeks that are great for hiking and steep rough terrain which makes for tough running.

Originally we were going to run this race, a 9 mile event which runs over some of the toughest course you could imagine around here. Instead, we decided it was time to work on running longer and not potentially injure ourself on this. So, rather than run it I decided to take some photos.

Woodminster is a handicap race, different age groups leave one after another. If I was in it I'd be 4 minutes in front of the fastest group (the young men), and about 20 minutes behind Patty in the old ladies group. Here's a couple of photos from the start:

Runners coming down the hill near the finish:

The trails are mostly like this, although there's hills which bring the whole field to a walk. Last year we were hiking on the day of this race and had a nice conversation with one of the racers as we walked up one of the more serious hills.

Here are a few more photos of the runners. This first one is the winner, Roy Rivers.

And I think this is the first place woman:

The rest of the photos are here, and the organizers were excited enough to have some one take photos they sent out a link to my photos with the race results and on their page.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Post-race slump

The payback for the trail race in the middle of our marathon training had to come.

In the days following the race I didn't feel especially bad in any one place. Just tiredness. Okay, well that's not exactly true. My knees felt tweaky. My back hurt a little. My blister did it's own thing. Nothing unexpected though. But as the days past I think the biggest problem was tightness.

By Tuesday I managed to get myself down to Lake Merritt and put in a slow and really rough recovery run in gusty and somewhat hot conditions. I threw in lots of walk breaks and a few times they weren't really walk breaks. More like just straight out walking. I cut the distance short to 3 miles (planned 4) and felt proud of myself for even getting out there, but NO fun was had, for the record. My main complaints at this stage: inside of right knee had a little pain left over from the weekend and my calves felt stiff.

Thursday morning before work I took on my 8 mile mid-long run with much better results, running from home to the lake, 2 miles around, then reverse. I felt tired, but basically I felt okay. And I love this run, especially early in the morning. The city rises over the course of the run's elapsed time. There's lots of people out doing their thing. It's Oakland at it's best.

Friday I skipped the first run of my training. There was supposed to be a 4 mile run in there that just didn't happen. Patty had run even less than me this week, still fighting ITB soreness around her knee from the race. So together we convinced ourselves another day of rest would do us good.

Saturday we had our 16 miler. It was horrible.

It was all a little disastrous from the beginning. With no relatives around this weekend we called in a play date we were owed. But there were two problems: Firstly, it ended up on a Saturday. Usually we do our long run on Sunday and besides, another day of rest would maybe have helped. The second problem was we ended up dropping Kelly off at nearly midday, which is neither good marathon practice, nor our idea running time food-wise (where was lunch? oh yeah, we ran for 3 hours instead!), nor the coolest time of the day. It was warm.

On top of that we made up a route with the following criteria. 1) Flat! 2) Long. 3) Few cross streets 4) close by, we didn't have time to drive anywhere. Enjoyable was not on the list. The result was we used the trail that runs along the bay from Emeryville, near the IKEA, north to the horse racing track, looping all over the place (into Chavez park twice and Berkeley Aquatic park once) to get 16 miles out of it.

Now, this might not seem so bad, with it's San Francisco views, but it is also right next to I-80.

Bike path between I-80 and the bay

The run started with us having to park a mile from where we'd planned to start. Curse you 'Chevy's customer parking only' signs. This made all the mileages I'd marked on a map a mile off. This was okay for a while, but by the time we'd run 10 or 11 miles, the math was too complicated. Seriously, it was.

Cesar E Chavez Park near Berkeley marina

The real problem with this run though was none of the above. It was my achilles of all things. I'd never heard a thing from my achilles. Never. Until just ONE mile into this run when it started to hurt out of nowhere. By mile 8 it was painful. Each step was a knife stab in the back of my heel. Interestingly, it was much worse to walk than run. So I ran. Now I look back on it as amazing I even finished this run. Each time conditions are not ideal we look at it as a good experience for the marathon, because things will get tough there and just like this run I will just have to tough them out as best I can. I just hoped that when I was done I'd walk again one day.

In the last few miles my foot still hurt but I'd stopped listening to it. It was best to keep moving. But a sense of fatigue descended on me which is hard to put into words. If they could bottle it, I think it could have dropped an elephant. But we maintained pace, such that it was, and got the job done. 3 hours and 14 minutes. 40 minutes longer than we'd ever run before. Fallback week ahead, thank God.

We got home and we both took an ice bath and I started 72 hours of rest, Advil, elevation and ice. My achiles seems to have responded, with a couple of solid runs (4 miles and 8 miles) in the past couple of days with no pain. My guess is an overly tight calf caused the damage, so I'm hoping if I keep up the stretching and stay off hills for a while, I can steer clear of that one going forward.

Although we love the trail racing, we're just not strong enough to do it in the middle of this kind of mileage build up. So we've decided to skip the Woodminster XC race this weekend and maybe do a run out on the Iron Horse trail (paved, relatively flat) this Saturday with our running club. After that there's two big runs (18 and 20 milers) with a fallback in between and then the taper! Let's hope, NO MORE SLUMPS!

Monday, June 4, 2007

Lake Chabot Trail Challenge

This past Sunday we took part in the Lake Chabot Trail Challenge Half Marathon. We signed up because we thought the course looked beautiful, because ultimately we'd like to get better at trail running (so why not dive right in?) and because it fit into our schedule and general sense that a few tough races would do us good on marathon day, if we survived. If the San Francisco Marathon is our A race, then this is our main B for the spring. On one hand I couldn't wait and on the other I kept thinking "once I get past that Chabot run then it's full speed ahead to the marathon."

Initially my expectations were that we'd go in it, try to have fun, and run with a bunch of people who went as fast (I mean, as slow) as us. Most races have a pretty good range of abilities. But then a week or two ago we started to look at last years times. They were fast! The last person in my age group last year finished in 2:33. Not normally too fast a time, but over a rough course with 1800+ ft of gain/loss, that seems to me like a pretty competitive field. Perhaps we were completely out of our league here. And what's more, there was a course limit of 3 hours. We started to become a little scared. What if we got to the finish line and they'd already folded up the tables and everyone had gone home? What if the race results just showed "LOSER" instead of a time next to our name? I'm not really a big fan of signing up for something that I'm clearly going to completely fail at. Perhaps this was really a bad idea.

So, meetings were held, expectations beaten with a large stick and goals were reset.
In order of importance (and decreasing order of likeliness) they now read:
  1. finish first trail race
  2. finish in under the 3 hour time limit
  3. try not to injure self or severely hamper training week ahead
  4. enjoy it!
  5. beat at least one person in my age group
  6. run under 2:30hrs (an unlikely goal)
The race:

I woke up after a bad night's sleep and really didn't feel too good. Nothing felt right in my stomach but I was willing to head out and give it a go anyway. Race nerves or oncoming illness? Who knows?! Our baby sitter arrived just after 7am and we were out the door, headed into the unknown.

When we arrived at the lake, the street nearby was already swarming with runners parking along the road and heading down to the lake (there's a $5 parking fee to park in the lot). We too parked on the street and followed them to the start line and picked up our packets, then made a pre-race bathroom stop. That left us barely enough time to put down a granola bar and get a little pre-race stretching in before the start. A ready. Set. And go! and we were off and running. It was all so fast I didn't even start recording my HR until around mile one!

Patty and I at the start

The race initially followed along the lake on a paved bike trail. A guy went by on his tandem bike (alone) and said he was catching up to his 11 year old daughter who was running. She'd done several half's before. Then he was off. First mile went by in around 10:00. Still plenty of people around us.

At 1.5 miles we hit the first real hill and headed up. We imagined the fast people half way home by now. We ran to the top of this hill with perhaps a little walking near the end. Some people started to fly by us on the way down the other side (perhaps the steepest downhill of the whole race). At the bottom we noticed one of them was covered with a smear of dirt down one side of his body. I don't think you need that so early in the race.

At the bottom of this hill the course runs along the golf course for a few hundred feet through tall trees and ferns to a cool wooden bridge and an aid station at the 3 mile mark. We later noted that this few hundred feet was the only significant flat section of the course!

Across the bridge was the major climb of the run. Something like 650ft straight up. Pretty soon we realized running was out of the question here and started to walk and settled into a power hike to the top , practiced through many years of hiking up bigger hills than this one. We noticed that we were gaining here on lots of people. We caught up to the guy with who'd fallen. He said "you guys walk faster than I can run". Yes we do. Still, my HR was up in the 180s just walking. As we continued up the hill. we passed several more people as everyone in view started to walk eventually. Back behind us was a beautiful view of the lake nestled within the green hills. I tried to appreciate how nice this section was scenically and ignore the incline. Goal 4.

The top was an aid station, at 4.5 miles, and we stopped for a minute or so and tried to swallow freezing cold Gatorade. Brain freeze! My stomach was still not pleased too, so I didn't drink too much. For what would be at most three hours running I was willing to risk a little dehydration. I carried a hand bottle filled with Cytomax and sipped this from time to time. Mostly I just wanted to practice running a race with it, the aid stations would have been fine. In hindsight I probably could have used more fluids.

The terrain after this aid station became a very welcome gentle downhill before becoming steeper as we entered the loggers loop. This area was filled with gum trees and smelled of home (Australia). The trail was a little slick with their leaves and nuts; we had to be careful. Goal 3. The second half of the loop regained the elevation lost and we walked several sections here. On the way up I felt like a pebble had gotten behind the heel of my shoe. At the top I reached in the see what the problem was. No pebble. Hmmm. I kept running. A little later I figured out I had a blister, caused by all the steep uphill walking. Note to self.

The miles from this point on became a bit of a blur. I do remember the mile markers coming by faster than I expected so I took this as a good sign. I didn't really feel any real pain anywhere, just growing fatigue. I think perhaps I was numb by this point. Patty was yelping at anything like a downhill with a sore knee and/or IT band problem. Overall though we were feeling pretty strong.

At the half way point I calculated that we might run 2:45 . And the hard hills were behind us. That was exciting but we had to keep moving. And moving we did. By the time we hit 5km to go it was 2:01. We had 29 minutes to do a 5K. Easy. Normally. I set off at a faster pace. Patty yelled at me for going so fast. I yelled back "Let's give it a go!" And both of us were off. Each mile mark we seemed on track. It was going to be close. We rounded the final corner and the clock read 2:29:22. 40 seconds! No problem!! I don't think I tried to kick at the end, just ran it in. Final time 2:29:35 (unofficial). Patty came in a few seconds back from me.

Here's a graph of elevation (blue) and HR (red):

Afterwards we sat around on the grass with Patty's friend Julie and her son and watched the rest of the field come in. It turned out that Julie had run with the eleven year old girl for several miles. They both came in just after two hours (and both won their age groups.) An eleven year old running that course in two hours. My daughter is such a slacker!

It felt nice sitting on the grass when I probably should have been walking around. They gave out pies and bags and water bottles. When I got up later I noted that I could barely put my weight on my right leg without intense pain. I also noted that walking around had my HR back up to the 150s! Interesting! We went home and both soaked in an ice bath for 10 minutes and popped 800mg of Advil. After that we were good to go.


We're elated! We achieved all of our goals for the race. We entered and finished our first real trail run. Our time exceeded both our expectations by half an hour and any reasonable prediction. Looking at the results I was not last in my division (the tough 35-40 men group), and most importantly I felt like I had fun and arrived at the finish line in okay shape. Marathon full speed ahead!