Friday, August 1, 2008

Monday, June 16, 2008

Kelly biking video

On the weekend Kelly rode her bike without training wheels for the first time.

Video on YouTube

Thursday, May 29, 2008

New 5K PR such that it is

On Sunday I ran the 5K race at Lake Merritt.

For me it was a new PR although I had hoped to break 26 minutes. As it was I had to settle for 26:11 ('gun time') or so, although my GPS recorded a 5K split of just under 26 minutes so that's good enough for me to use 26:00-26:05 as the basis of the half marathon I plan to run in the Fall and also for a speed work class I'm taking in June.

Obviously this isn't an especially fast 5K time, but since it was 33 seconds faster than the same time last year (my last 5K) and 4 minutes faster than 2 years ago, I think it's at least headed in the right direction. It will be interesting to see if there's much change after the speed work class as up to this point we've done almost nothing to try and increase speed, only long run endurance.

This months field was weakened by the Tilden Tough Ten the previous weekend, with many of the regular fast runners sitting this one out. Amazingly I actually placed 3rd in my age group (30-39 Male), and came in 16th out of 71 overall. Easily my best Lake Merritt placing. Unfortunately I didn't stay around for the awards.

Here's the pace/HR vs distance graph. At this point my my AT is just over 192 bpm and equates to around an 8:25 min/mile pace. Above this HR my running quickly goes anaerobic. I was feeling pretty good holding a little below this level through the 2nd mile. Interestingly at this point a couple of (small) hills and some pace fluctuations (it wasn't a closed course), didn't really alter my HR by more than a few bpm. Into the 3rd mile I decided to push the pace as best I could and see if I exploded. That didn't happen, and I did manage to keep it together. My fastest mile was the last one.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Big Sur Marathon

On Sunday we took part in, and completed, the Big Sur International Marathon. This was our second marathon, and, what a difference 9 months makes.

Anyone who knows anything about this marathon knows two things:
1) it is often considered the most beautiful marathon in the country.
2) it is one of the hardest marathons in the country.

These two factors seem to be appealing to us, though it might take some soul searching to figure out our attraction to more and more difficult goals of completion rather than picking something easier and doing better. This is the kind of thing that is drawing us closer to the ultra marathoning world and further away from the flat course optimum speed marathons.

I think the reason for this is probably a combination of not being naturally fast, our desire to run our races together, and our past life hiking these same trails that we now run. We seem to be in it for the challenge of completion and the beauty of the journey. Perhaps speed will come, (and I'll come back to that in another post), but for this marathon, again, completing it was the goal, enjoying the course was paramount, and a sense that we did well and ran strong for our current abilities in the face of adversity important.

However, I was also asked several times about what time I wanted to run. Since Big Sur is said to be 20 minutes or more slower than other marathons I said if I could PR (against my other injury plagued first marathon), or break 5 hours, then that would be complete success. With the six hour time limit and the prospect of more hill running than I'd ever done, I imagined a scenario where I could only walk uphill, limp downhill and generally walk aimlessly for hours until I was either pulled from the course for taking more than 6 hours or preemptively leaped into the Pacific Ocean. I hoped that wouldn't be the case, but couldn't discount it completely as I truly wasn't certain my body was ready for this.

Finally the time had arrived. My parents were visiting from Australia and my parents-in-law took on Kelly early Saturday morning while we packed up and drove south the 2 hours to Monterey. Our pack list filled all the space of a notepad page, imagining hot or cold race conditions, cold start with warm finish (note: buy throwaway gloves at expo), cold waiting for bus (what if they have run out of TP? camera?) , post race needs (what if we need to stitch our own arm back on?), if we had our car nearby, or not, what to bring to eat (what? 8 packets of Gu??), what to buy down there (pasta place reservation?) etc. We had a surprisingly complicated checklist for what should require a pair of shoes and some sunscreen.


Down at the expo we picked up our race numbers and chips and then shopped for a while. I came away with $80 of Big Sur branded (mostly Asics) gear, so really hoped I'd finish, and also a signed copy of Bart Yasso's new book. He's the chief running officer at Runner's World and maybe the nicest most interesting guy in running. He also has a quoted as saying that if he could run one marathon he'd make it Big Sur. How can you not like the guy?

I asked him about running the course and he said to negative split it, that although the second half in hilly, it's a net downhill and to save yourself in the first half and use the energy to work the downhills in the second half.

Later in the day we saw Jeff Galloway talk. Now here's my problem: I'm a runner. I'm a sucky runner, but still a runner. That means, I run. I don't walk. Walking is not the challenge running is. On the other hand, I'd rather make it through an event strong than 'run' hard the first half and then implode at mile 18. So, we listened to him answer questions about his walk running, the strategy of dropping the walk run ratio down to 1:1 or 1:2 on the hills, and other Galloway wisdom and by the end we both thought for this race it could be worth a shot. For this kind of course, where the ups and down were going to make energy conservation critical, we thought it couldn't hurt. We'd keep our planned pace, but we'd do some walking.


So we formed a race plan over our spaghetti and marinara that evening, largely formed off advice we picked up at the expo:
  1. We'd use 4:1 run/walk ratio. This was very different from any walk/running we'd done before (mostly either walk through the aid stations only, or walk 1 min every mile). When the time hit a 5 min mark, we'd walk a minute then run again. We'd do that until Hurricane Point (a 2 mile climb starting at mile 10) where we'd do 2:1 (run 2 min, walk 1) to get to the top. If the going got tough later on we'd do 2:1 and then 1:1 until we completed the course.
  2. We'd run 11 min/mile average pace until the hill. After that we'd do the best we could for the last half.
  3. If Jeff Galloway ran by us (pacing for a 5 hour finish), we'd run with him.
  4. Eat a Gu shot 15 minutes before the race and every 45 mins on course
  5. Run down hills with caution, don't brake, shuffle. Save the quads!
  6. Drink a cup of water at every aid station.


We spent the night in Salinas, CA, about 30 minutes of iceburg lettuce fields east of Monterey. Set alarm for 2:45am, woke up at 2:30 and made coffee. Yes, 2:30am. It was vomit inducing. I put on my race t-shirt and shorts. Stuffed an iPod shuffle deep into a pocket in case the going got tough. Added 8 Gus. Yum. Over that I layered a long sleave shirt. Over that stuff, a pair of fuzzy pants and a fleece. We grabbed our stuff and headed back to Monterey. Outside it was warm, already. I knew I wouldn't need my fleece.

We parked in a garage and boarded the school buses for the start line. It took more than an hour to wind their way down the coast in the dark. Half the people on the bus were talking loudly to each other, nervously telling strangers about their lives, while the other half stayed quiet, silently knowing what lay ahead, that perhaps by the time that made it back to the finish line hours later they might be changed forever. That makes some people disappear into themselves while others cover it up with apparent mindlessness.

The area where we started was filled with people already. It was good people watching. There were people doing push ups. There was much personal grooming. That a large number of people still run in cotton socks was an interesting fact. After a final trip to the port-a-potties we headed to our start spot on the road. A lone bagpiper played nearby. Once in position, it wasn't long before the national anthem was sung and the doves released. I'm not kidding. The gun fired and (3 minutes later) we were off. This is the point when you wonder how you got yourself into this again. Too late though, there's only one way back home. Start running.

For the first couple of miles it was hard to settle into anything, and walk breaking was difficult for fear of being run down. But we did it. Patty took charge of calling '5 seconds'. In 5 seconds we'd try to find some road shoulder to walk on. Way before 60 seconds we were itching to start running. But we held steady. Slow now will get us there faster later. Don't worry about the people running by. Stay on the plan.

We ran through redwoods towards the coast. Some kids were out now to watch us and the sun was out. It was already in the mid-60s and I'd started in just shorts and a t-shirt and never even begun to feel cold. I had a moment of thinking that was a little bad, but perhaps that should have worried me more. It was going to be hot. For now, it was perfect running, looking at the trees and the little streams and campgrounds or two nestled down in between trees. And the running was easy too, so life was good. But hold steady. Our pace settled into an 11:01-11:03 average. Perfectly on plan.

By mile 6 we'd cleared the trees and headed straight towards the coast and the Big Sur lighthouse perched atop a piece of marooned coastline. From there we curved north and started up along the coast. The road climbed slowly past cow fields with the Pacific ocean behind them. Cresting the hill we headed down to sea level and then onto the big climb: Hurricane Point. This hill was approximately 600ft up over 2 miles. It's work, but it's very doable and never gets too steep. Both of us felt strong the whole way up. At the top we stopped and posed for pictures (in hurricane force wind), the view was spectacular. People headed up the hill behind us, a trail of runners stretching along the coast in front of us.

Then started our way down. Easy on the quads. Easy. Easy. Easy. At the bottom was the famed bridge that is seen in many photos of the area. It was also 13.1 miles, halfway there. As we ran across the bridge a man was playing a baby grand piano.

Behind Patty the ocean was a deep deep blue. "This is Californian living," said Patty, "this is why you moved here." It was magical. And it was living.

We continued on. The next major hill I came too was the first sign of fatigue onset. It wasn't too bad, but the climb up the Big Bad Boy had taken something out of me that I wasn't going to get back before the end of the race. It was only going to get worse. The course became a fairly steady stream of climbing and dropping with little which you'd consider flat. Where there were hills, which is to say, everywhere, they had no name, but were still the equal of any heart break hill elsewhere. It was hard running. By mile 18 I was getting tired and my legs and I were having conversations. Our pace average had taken a hit on the big hill (with one mile in there taking 13 minutes), partially recovered on the following downhill (ran some nice sub-10 sections in there) and stabilized at about a 11:12 pace. All in all, the race to mile 20 was pretty good. Why don't they make races 20 miles long?

I remember at the San Francisco marathon a pace group leader giving the following assessment of running a marathon: run the first 10 with your head (be smart, don't go too hard), run the second 10 with your legs (it will get harder, use you legs to hold the pace), and run the last 6.2 with your heart. Not long after mile 20 I knew where she was coming from.

Around me the scenery was only more spectacular. Cliff sides we ran along were covered with flowers and dropped spectacularly into intimate little coves that you'd never see from a car. Sea gulls would soar by us against clear blue sky, while a we ran by a musician playing the harp. This is 80 or 90% of the experience of running Big Sur. The beauty of Big Sur far outweighs the challenge. And the two experiences become separate. While your legs can be saying lets stop. We're done. Your mind can be saying "Hell no, this is living. Let's keep going. This is fun."

By mile 23 I was hurting on the uphills. I was tired, there wasn't too much glycogen left, but largely it was this: I was very dehydrated. My HR was high and I unable to keep it down on the hills. Patty, we need to do 1 minute run, 1 minute walk, okay? What? My HR is 195! You know, like, as though I was sprinting the final 400 yards of a 5k, only we're doing a 12 min/mile up a hill and there's still 2 miles to go. I don't want to blow up here. So we walk-ran up the last few hills and cruised down the final downhills. They still felt good.

Soon we crossed the Carmel bridge and headed into the finish line. People cheered. It was amazing. A life moment. Our chip time was 4 hours, 57 minutes. A 10 minute PR for the two of us.

One of the organizers shook my hand as he placed the hand crafted medal around my neck. "How was it?" he asked with such sincerity. "It was hard" I said. But I felt like it wasn't a very good answer to his question. It was a momentous spiritual journey that I'll never forget. And it was hard.


Well, I'm still digesting this. The race itself was a perfect race for me. We beat our expectations on all levels. Our second half was less than three minutes slower than the first half (and some of that was picture taking). Not quite Bart's negative split, but I'll take it.

But there were things to learn from it, as always. Here are some initial thoughts:

. Hydration was the big issue. By the time we finished it was in the high 80s. Under those conditions I know I need a lot of water. It seems likely I need more water than I can reasonably take in at an aid station. I either need to practice that, or I need to run with a bottle like I do in training. And then I need to think about sodium intake.

. The 100 calories (1 gel) every 45 minutes worked well.

. My knee is still a problem, but my PT and I are working on that. After the race I had someone at the medical tent tape ice onto it. It was borderline annoying during the race approaching 'pain' in the final few miles. Ugly afterwards. Back to those exercises.

. This was the brave experiment of this marathon, and I think it works. It doesn't sit right with me, but at this time and this place it made for a much better (and faster marathon). Being a slave to a watch is not fun either, but being in control of the outcome of your race is. Like they say: walk before you're forced to.

. Good technique down hills worked really well. The final hill we ran down was our fastest. After 5 hours our quads were still going strong (not as good today!) Something to take forward. We can always be stronger running up hills, but all our trail running certainly helped. We'll get stronger.

All in all, we had a fantastic time. I haven't even mentioned how well organized this is too. Everything was perfect for every aspect of this event. Like the half we ran last November this is a class act.

done. running.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008


Now that I'm in my final week of tapering I find myself with a lot of spare time on my hands. Here's the product of a little of that time. A graph comparing the Boston Marathon with Big Sur.

I feel more than a little concerned.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Ups and downs

It's safe to say that my running life has had its ups and downs this past few months. This week is one of the down ones. With 4 weeks to go until the Big Sur Marathon, on a perfectly flat and easy stretch of paved path, 8.5 miles into a run, I went from fine one step to limping with a calf injury the next.

I'm hoping the fact that I wasn't doing anything too dramatic at the time means I'll be better in time for the marathon, but who knows. Somehow I suspect another sucky cross-training filled taper and an injury re-occurrence in the marathon, because that's what happened last time. But I guess we'll see.

Obviously, I've decided to take the early taper option, what miles are in the bank are in the bank. So, I present, the bank:
This graph starts in September last year and runs through to last Saturday's ill fated long run. But I'll start with last August, the month following my last marathon. With a marathon IT band problem, and outside foot trouble, plus fatigue, running never got off the ground. Every run would end within a mile with flashbacks to the last few miles of the marathon.

But things slowly improved. I started being able to run around the track, slowly. I remember how exciting it was to make it my first mile without any pain. But the reality was, after a month of not running, I lost a huge amount of fitness.
September I started to put some miles together and eventually we set our sights on the Big Sur Half Marathon. We drove down to Monterey to check out the course and also the full marathon course, just for the fun of it. As we drove the mountainous route of the marathon I remember thinking: "if this is a marathon I'm ever going to do, it won't be anytime soon." I started to think about Napa Valley instead. It looked much flatter.
In November we ran our half marathon and it was a complete success. We were still feeling a little under-trained for it, and I felt like I faded a little towards the end, but it was a PR by 9 minutes over our previous best, so it wasn't all bad. The scenery was spectacular and the organization fantastic.

Following the Half we started to build our long run, and although our mid-week miles never really got up there, we were cruising along pretty well and running lots of hills, doing pace runs, etc. We did multiple 18 milers, mostly on a tough trail course and did a 20 miler on the pavement that went really well. Things were all set for Napa Valley, except for one thing. We decided to do a 30K trail run instead.
While that race went well, and in the post race euphoria we signed up for the 99% full Big Sur Marathon, we were more beaten up from it than we realized and our miles dropped right back to get some quality recovery in. Since then we've put in a couple of okay long runs and more substantial week mileage. It feels like we were ready to go a month ago, and since then we've been trying to put together something that feels like a proper marathon build up.
I know what it takes to run 26.1 miles. I've been there worse prepared and arguably more injured than this time. Even on Saturday I was strong on the hills and could run through the calf thing. But somehow I had hoped that this had gone a little better. Maybe one always feels that way.

Or perhaps if you feel that way then the reality of the non-perfect marathon will be a shock, because anything can happen. Despite a perfect build up where you did every run on the plan, and they all felt great, there are so many things that can go wrong. IT pain when you never had IT pain before, hot conditions when you were expecting cool, you catch the flu the week before, or for unknown reasons you're just having a bad day. Who knows?
But I think that's part of what makes the marathon interesting. You can't control it, you can only overcome it. Marathons, like my build up, and life, have their ups and downs. You just have to do what you can.

(ups and downs at Big Sur)

Monday, February 18, 2008

Sequoia 30K

On Saturday we ran our first race of the year, the Sequoia 30K. This was our first trail run with Pacific Coast Trail Runs. And what an experience it was.


Our goal this year is to run a lot more trail races and a lot less road courses. When we are running down a road, some part of us is always wishing for a beautiful single track winding through the redwoods. But some part of us also knows that we're not strong enough for the trail runs around here and the thousands of feet of steep elevation gain (and loss) they bring. It's the former hikers and backpackers in us that love being on the trails.

Our lead up to this race was actually a build up for the Napa Valley Marathon. Since the half marathon in November last year we've increased our long run up to 20 miles and our weekly mileage peaked at 32 miles. We've run about 260 miles since then. It wasn't ideal. There was the usual winter sickness. There was travel. There weren't enough mid-week runs because work squeezed them out. But for us there was a good sustained set of miles stretching back to last October, and it's nice to head into the year with as many miles as we have and being in probably the best shape of our lives.

A few weeks ago Patty and I talked about what our goals were as we felt ourselves being swept towards another road race (Napa Valley Marathon). We thought about what and when we enjoy running, and it's always running in the hills which makes us happiest, so we scrapped the marathon plan (at least as a goal race), and set our sights on doing what we need to do to finish our first 50K ultra this year. The first step was to jump right in and see how these things work. That led us to this race, which is held practically in our backyard and on trails we've run many times.


We arrived early and picked up our bibs. Our friend Eric was there and we chatted a bit. He was running the 50K, us just the 30K (18.6 miles). There was little of the usual pre-race craziness, just people greeting old friends and getting ready to go. The lines for the bathroom were there, of course.

It was chilly, but I shed my long sleeve shirt and reluctantly discarded my fuzzy sweat pants. But soon we started and off heading out of the meadow and towards the first climb. From our back of the pack position, the field came almost to a halt as we were funneled into a narrow track that climbed up to Sequoia-Bayview. Most of those around us walked and so did we. In fact, we couldn't have run if we wanted to. It was a road block.

At the top people started to settle into their pace on the gently uphill trail that is one of our favorite runs. Around us people chatted about if they were planning to do Western States this year, or this or the other ultra. Below us we could look across the bay towards a foggy San Francisco. In front of us the trail followed the hillside trying its hardest to stay level as it ducked into gullies of redwoods and trickling steams and then out again for bay area views. We crossed over Skyline Blvd (were a volunteer made sure everyone crossed okay), and arrived at the Moon Gate aid station. Being our first run of this type we checked out all the offerings, dug into some of the potatoes and I filled up my bottle and drank two cups of water. I knew it would take us close to 1.5 hours to get to the next aid station 7.3 miles away. With just a 20 oz bottle to work with, better top up!

GPS track

From there we dove down into Redwood park towards the French Trail. It was just steep enough to fly down, and I was feeling strong at this point and didn't need to brake much. Even cruising down as fast as I was we were caught by the 20K lead runners who flew by 'on ya left!'. They had started after us. I tried to stay roughly to the right, but figured if they were going that fast into traffic while plummeting into the valley, they'd have to be the ones to make sure they were safe.

As soon as we hit the French trail (one of the nicest trails we know), we slowed down and started to power walk the steep parts and run the rest. People continued to pass us running the shorter distance, but mostly we'd found our place in the 30K field. I felt like the trail was more runnable than I remembered from training runs, but perhaps I would have felt better later if I'd not moved through this section as quick. At the time it was just fun and hard and beautiful.

At the end of the French trail we climbed up to the west ridge (walking), and then headed onto the out and back section for the 30K and 50K runners. This took us down a long hill section of fairly tight trail. Here we encounted the first of the lead runners running up the hill at full speed. Steve Stowers was headed for a 50K course record (at a 7:36 min/mile pace!) followed closely by Victor Ballesteros, who wasn't going much slower. For the good runners, these hills clearly aren't a problem like they are for us.

At the bottom we took Golden Spike trail into the main Redwood park area. Along the way we had to keep jumping off the trail for runners headed the other way. We greeted Scott Dunlap along here, whose blog I've read for the past year. We also ran into Eric who was placing well.

Eventually we made it to the mid-run aid station (at around 9.5M). I filled my bottle with cliff sports drink, drank another couple of cups, ate a cookie (which didn't work too well), so went back for the potatoes and bananas. It did feel good to break the shot bloks with solid food. After that break we headed back the way we came. I was happy to see there was plenty of folks headed towards the aid station still, so my fear of us being the last one there hadn't actually come true. Of course I didn't really know how many of them were 30Kers.

We headed back to the hill where we'd seen the lead runners. It was our turn to head up. In my imagination, before the race, I thought maybe we'd maybe run this hill, and normally it was pretty runnable. It was long, but not horribly steep. But there was no way. We slipped into a power walk, which by the top was more of just a walk. Fatigue was setting in, and uphill progress had become painfully slow. I'd hit a wall. If I was on flat or heading down, I was beat-up, but okay. If I was going up then it had become a real struggle. My HR was high and my pace was slow and getting slower. Basically I was done, but I still had 4 miles left to run. I stopped and poured several rocks and small trees out of my shoes. It felt good to sit on the ground. Nice ground. Birds chirped happily. I noticed it was just warm enough in the shade for this kind of lazying around to be the ideal way to spend a Saturday. Then remembered I was in a race. Sigh.

The next couple of miles were great. They were all uphill. I loved it! Actually, they were pretty horrible. We walked a lot of the 500ft climb behind Roberts before arriving back at the West Ridge. I joked about being lapped by the lead 50Kers right as we were, in fact, lapped by the lead two 50Kers.

At this point I knew the climbing was basically done. We were back on a trail we've run dozens of times. Although I'd probably never felt so horrible any of those times, we knew the end was within our grasp. Patty took off, sensing the finish line was waiting for her. We stopped briefly back at the Moon Gate aid station and downed some more potatoes and other snacks, and for some reason I had my bottle filled. Then we were headed back across Skyline, back along Sequoia Bayview and then down down down. I did notice that when it came to some small uphills I did surprisingly better at running them than walking them. Perhaps I should have run more of the hills through the race?

Eventually the finish sign appeared over one last hill, a heard a couple of voices coming up behind me while Patty was 30ft ahead of me, clearly doing much better than I. I was pushing as hard as I could. My HR spiked up to 197, my GPS registered me at the break neck speed of a 10 min/mile! It was all I had. I crossed the finish line right on 4 hours and 15 minutes (about 75 people ahead of me, 25 people behind me). Patty finished 9th in her age group. I finished... well, lets just say I finished. We'd done it. And I was SO done.

  • Trail runs are fun. And even when they aren't fun, they are still beautiful.
  • People were super friendly and this event was really well organized and marked. I had a great time!
  • Hills, hills, hills: We need to incorporate hills, both running them and power walking them into our training. There was over 3000ft of elevation gain. Much of this was in short steep bits on 'rolling' trail. I see walking up and down Mt Diablo, Lyon steps, and Lovers Lane many times in my future if I want to improve at this.
  • Water: I was somewhat dehydrated at the end, but about what I expected. I need to drink more if the race is going to be longer. I need at least 20 oz every hour. The distance between stations and our slowish pace meant I couldn't get that much with one water bottle. I should think about running with two.
  • Food: I stuck to my plan. I ate 100 calories in shot bloks before the race. I ate at the aid stations and liked the results. A ate 100 calories every 30 mins between aid stations (again, shot bloks). I drank 20 oz of sports drink between aid stations (Accelerade on the way out, Cliff on the way back). I don't know if it was enough. It didn't seem to be the problem, but perhaps more food would have helped.
  • Strategy: I went through the French trail too hard as it turns out, but I was there for the lessons. I wasn't going to run it as slow as I ran it in training, I already know I can do that. But running it as fast as I did burnt me out on the uphills. The lesson is probably that I need to train for that better. Train to power walk the really steep stuff and to run the moderate hills. And keep doing it for 32 miles!
  • What gave out: apart from uphill muscles, my upper back was pretty sore especially walking up hills. I also got a couple of good blisters, but I'am retiring those shoes anyway. On the positive side, I felt like my hip flexors held out better than they have in the past, so maybe the core work is starting to pay off. My other known weak points also held out: my IT band twinged around mile 3, briefly signaling the end to my race. Then didn't bother me the rest of the time. Outside foot and peronials also didn't present a problem. A case of runners knee we've both had this past few weeks also didn't present a problem.
  • A couple of days later I'm a little sore in the quads and calves but in basically good shape. Yesterday afternoon I even went for a jog at the track. In some ways it was as hard as the marathon. Certainly the course was harder but the duration shorter. But I feel much better than I did after that.
So, our feet wet, we'll be back for more. We're still deciding if we want to run Napa Valley as a training run, or perhaps hold off a month and run the Big Sur Marathon. After that we have our eye on Pirate's cove and then the East Bay Triple Challenge (Tilden Tough Ten 10M, Lake Chabot Trail Challenge 13.1M and Woodminster XC 9M), beyond that our goal ultra is the Skyline 50K.