Archive for June, 2010

Race: Woodminster 2010

The “Dick Barton Memorial Woodminster XC Race” is, despite the name, a trail race. It’s the third race in the East Bay Triple Crown with the Tilden and Lake Chabot avents. I had not raced it before but had run the course more than once, most recently a week before. There was some uncertainty about how I would get on though, since I have contracted Plantar Faciitis in my right foot. This does not seem to be worried by slow running, but going hard can induce a flareup. So the plan was to take it relatively easily, to the extent possible on this course. Some plan!
“I’ve heard this one is tougher than Chabot, Is it?” asked Deborah of the womens team. “Um well, it’s only nine miles, and err the descents are not too bad, except for the one at the end.” She did not seem to find this too reassuring. This race gets it’s reputation from the uphills, in particular the one in he second half known as the Woodmonster.

Course profile. Each horizonta band is 100 ft

The start was handicapped in six groups, slowest first, and I got the raw end of this deal. I was just two weeks from leaving the 45-54 age category, so started just 8 minutes ahead of scratch. All of the women started ahead of me, including speedy Veronica. Bye, see you at the finish I expect.
We started off across the meadow and ran into the redwoods along a gently rolling fire trail, trending downhill. Despite having felt slow in my warmup, I was going a little fast here, about 10K pace according to the Garmin data. I got this under control and settled into the back half of the group in anticipation of the trail narrowing. After a few minutes we commenced the first big uphill. This consisted of sections of runnable trail stabilized with occasional railroad ties, interspersed with steeper rocky sections. It was wide enough to pass in most places, and I did get passed. That was OK, this was not the stage to indulge in individual races. One young blonde guy I thought was overdoing it and wondered if I would be passing him later.
Near the top of the hill there was an easy up grade that was so narrow that my shoulders were brushing the vegetation on both sides. At this point I caught the tail end runner of the previous group and settled down to his pace. No passing here. Suddenly there was heavy breathing behind. I has also been caught. We quickly emerged onto a wider trail, passed each other, and settled into a faster pace. We soon crossed the road into Redwood Park and were running along the West Ridge trail on our recovering legs towards Skyline Gate, where the first aid station was. A dog walker on the trail remarked to her friend ‘There do seem to be a lot of runners today, Perhaps we shold have gone the other way.” I had downed two bottles of Gatorade before leaving the house, but I still drank two cups at the aid station.
Good thing too. It was more open on the East Ridge trail, the sun was out, and things were warming up. I started to encounter people I knew. “Hi Laurie”. “Go get ’em, Jim”. Blond guy was a short distance in front, going at a good pace. Plenty of time yet to catch him. We turned right and commenced a steep descent back into the forest at about half marathon pace. There were footsteps coming up behind. Without looking round I stayed right and said “You Go”. A guy in a red shirt came by. “That’s easy for you to say. I’ve been slowly catching you for quite a while now. Now I need to find someone else to follow!” I pointed at blond guy. “Try him, he’s going at my speed” but he soon passed him too. We ran alongside a stream along the valley floor. Red shirt seemed to be slowing a bit but I stayed behind, conserving energy for the climb to come. We caught up with red shirt, who was walking and blowing his nose. “Looks like you will have the fun of reeling me in again” I remarked as he started running again. It turned out that red shirt and blonde guy knew each other and introductions were made, which I quickly forgot. These trail runners are a garrulous lot. “So when do we get to the bit where we walk?” asked red shirt. “That’s coming quite shortly” I reassured him. We jumped over a small stream and commenced up a steepening slope, started walking. “Welcome to the Woodmonster!”

We were in a cluster of half a dozen walkers, and a fast guy coming from behind ran past us. “I don’t think he got the memo about walking!” At this point my knowledge of the course came in handy. We could only see a few yards ahead along the winding trail, but I knew when the runnable sections were coming and started to run/walk ahead of the group. I soon came up behind fast guy, who was paying the price for running that early steep pitch. He looked strong though, pushing down on his knees as he climbed some natural steps created by tree roots, and I had no illusions about beating him. I just kept to my own pace and from time to time he looked back at me. Ah. staying ahead of me seemed to be his uphill motivator, and he stayed just a few yards ahead for much of the climb. We passed a woman who also kept looking back. She was walking a pitch that was marginally runnable, so of course I started running, saying “So where’s this hill they were warning us about?” This seemed to cheer her up. At the top the trail continued to be tricky for a while with plenty of rocks and tree roots, but the quality improved, we crossed back over the road and it was time to coax some more speed from the poor tired legs. Fast guy was no longer visible. We started a gradual descent along the hill face. I ran along the outer edge of the trail where it was smoothest, while comforting myself that if I fell down the hill face, my slide would soon be arrested by a tree. Still passing people on this wider section, then here was red shirt again. he’d caught me again on this faster going.

Only about two miles to go now, time to push somewhat. My legs were complaining, but managed to provide a brisk pace. One technical section to come. I had run this tricky downhill twice during my preview. It was infested with protruding tree roots, but was quite wide, giving a choice of lines. I set off down it gaining quickly on two runners in front, both of who had passed me earlier. Then I came up behind a slower runner, went around her, and was diverted into a section where the roots were six inches above trail level. I’m not sure how I avoided falling at this point. We were soon on smooth going again, and the twosome in front were running abreast, making it hard to pass. Maybe I could get them to speed up. “Erm, nearly there, guys”. They took the hint and accelerated, and within a minute we were back in the meadow with the finish line in sight. They outkicked me, unsurprisingly. I had been surging for a while now. 1:23:25. OK but not stellar. I’m still learning this trail stuff. The PF stayed in abeyance, allowing me a short run the next day.

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Race: Lake Chabot Trail Challenge 2010

Here we go, a real trail race. A half marathon on dirt with industrial strength hills, with just short bits of pavement at the beginning and end. I had not run this course before, although the first and last segments of it were familiar from previous runs in the area. The elevation profile below leaves out some detail!

We assembled at the appointed spot at 8:00 am on Sunday, the race director climbed her stepladder, and instructed us: “Hands up all 5K runners. OK, go over there, that’s your start line and you will be starting in that direction” She pointed, and movement took pace. “Now, half marathoners, I’m going to say Ready, Set, Go!” Instant consternation amongst the newbies including me. Where was our line, and which of these trails were we to head down? She paused and the volunteers shepherded us behind the low carbon footprint (invisible) start line and pointed along the trail. I shifted back a little, since I did not want to be pulled out too fast, and away we went. We followed the lakeshore on a rolling paved trail at (for me) slower than marathon pace. This was my fourth race weekend in a row. I had run a 10K PR in warm conditions just 6 days previously and was not feeling too comfortable even at this modest velocity. Ugh, feeling slow today. This could get ugly if I’m not careful. So I was careful. I ran that first mile in 8:05, conserving energy as best I could.
Before we had gone two miles we turned sharp right and headed uphill to a general muttering of “OK, here we go!” and similar incantations. I said to the guy alongside “You have run this before? I hear this first hill is just a warmup”. He laughed. “The others are no steeper than this, but they do last longer”. He thought for a moment. “Much longer.” This was quite steep enough thank you. Most of us were alternating between running and walking, and those who kept running were no faster than us. As we approached the top my companion enquired “Are you warmed up now?” “Hah, yes thank you!” I was dripping already. There was cloud cover still but it was quite humid. I was glad I was carrying a handheld full of Gatorade. This was a disposable plastic bottle with a duct-tape handle. It would not be refillable with its narrow neck, but I planned to dump it at an aid station when it ran out and drink from cups thereafter. The ground underfoot was hard dry clay with corrugations where it had been eroded by the winter rains. we were weaving a little, picking a smooth line through the bumps. After a short level stretch we started downhill. On the roads I do pretty well on downhills but was plainly out of my league here. Some of these trail racers were going startlingly fast down this ridiculous gradient. Lesson one: Any (fit) fool can run uphill, but it takes experience to go down really quickly. I was far from the slowest though, and passed a few while getting passed myself.

Once over the suspension bridge, we started up the big hill, getting back into the run/walk alternation. At a certain angle I can start walking without slowing down, and I got into a little routine. I would measure my pace against the person in front. If they were running, I would continue to walk until the slope eased and they started to pull away. At that point I would start running and pass them on temporarily fresh legs. Lesson two: There’s nothing wrong with walking. This hill was indeed persistent, with more than one false summit. we would reach a nearly-level section, then go round a corner and start going up again. Run/walk was not the only way, it seemed. A young woman eased past while I was walking, going just a little faster but with a very economical uphill jog. By the top of big hill she was 30 seconds in front and pulling away. She placed in her age group. Lesson 3: Experience helps on the uphills too, darn it. This does of course conflict with lesson 1, but well, learning curve.

After being under tree cover for the earlier section things were more open now, but there were no grand vistas. We had climbed into the cloud layer. This was refreshingly cool but 100% humid, an odd sensation. We crested the hill and commenced down for a while. These downhills were if anything more stressful than the ups. my while body was getting a hammering, but the loudest complaints were from my heels and upper back. Try to relax more… A guy with silver hair came past, going at a good clip. The terrain started to roll for a while and we got into a pattern, I would catch him on the uphills, gap him at the top, and he would come by me again on the descents. He even commented “These uphills just kill me”. We reached the second peak and the downs became longer than the ups. He got further ahead until I lost sight of him. Oh well. For a while I was on my own, and paid close attention to the marker ribbons in order not to miss a turn. There were plenty of forks in the trail and I nearly did miss one. The cloud broke up and some fine views could be glimpsed through the trees. Footsteps behind. A young guy in grey came by, saying by way of explanation “I love these downhills!”. I was not too pleased to get passed again, but he was the last. Here was a party of mountain bikers working hard up a slope. “On your left” I warned. “Your’re doing good” one of them gasped. And I was. All ache, pains and stiffness were gone, I was running harder and enjoying it. I started to pass people. Yup, the elusive runner’s high had arrived. A photographer was waiting in a folding chair at the top of a short slope and snapped me as I approached. “You look like you’re having too much fun”. My only response was a laugh, which may have sounded a little unhinged.

The long downhill back to the lakeside was not super-steep and I was able to take it at good speed. My legs were complaining but I felt detached from them, as though I was directing some avatar in a video game. The trail started to look familiar. From here (about mile 10) to the finish was ground I had run before. Running across the dam I could see some familiar backs in front of me. Grey outfit, Silver hair and some others I had not seen for over an hour. We started the paved section and came to the last aid station on a short uphill. My bottle had been dry for a couple of miles, so into the can it went and I grabbed a cup of water. Following road practice, I did all this on the run. A couple of guys were walking while drinking and looked a little startled when I zipped by. I got a surprise of my own when I swallowed that water. It was ice cold.
Rolling asphalt, small hills, going fast, one mile to go, four runners visible. I think this is the last hill, and there’s less than a mile to go. Hit it! I passed all four on that hill, including silver hair and grey outfit. On the descent I heard footfalls catching up. I could guess who that would be. Silver hair came by and I stuck to him as we approached the marina. I drew level. He was working hard. I was not at all sure I wanted to beat him, but I sure didn’t want to wave him over the line either. There were some spectators applauding us as we ran neck-and-neck. he stuck like glue to the left of the track, putting himself on the inside of a sharp corner followed by a short decent. He was suddenly three yards ahead. That solved my dilemma. I covered the final 200 yards as fast as I could go and got to within yard of him, then we were in the finish chute holding our knees while gasping mutual congratulations. 2:01:49. A cheery voice cried “Hi Jim!” It was Veronica, who I had not seen since we co-paced the Oakland Marathon together. She had been first woman in 1:46. Impressive.

So conservative early pacing paid off again, athough I might have over-done it on this occasion. But on this monster of a course that’s just fine. I’ll be back.

Race: Marin Memorial Day 10K 2010

This was a spur of the moment thing. LMJS recently formed a womens’ USATF racing team, and this was their second event. I’m planning to get the ball rolling for a mens team, so I wanted to cheer the ladies on and get a taste of racing at a USATF event. Most of the well known Bay Area clubs seemed to be well represented.

The conditions were warm and unusually humid for the Bay Area, plus I had not tapered appreciably for this race, and had done a fairly hard 9 mile trail run just two days before. I was unsure how this would turn out. At the worst I could just cruise it, but my 10K PR was quite soft so perhaps I could beat that.

I hung back at the start in order not to get pulled out too fast. This tactic proved a little too effective, since I was repeatedly boxed in during the first mile and had to run around more people than I would have liked. 7:06 at the first mile marker. Hmm, pretty close to my half marathon PR pace. Feeling OK, but wondering if I could maintain this. The course made it’s way through shaded residential streets in Kentfield and Ross, A sprinkling of residents had come out to cheer us on. Mile 2: 7:07. OK, holding steady, were we going slightly uphill? I was gradually passing faders, but figured it was too early to try to pass everyone in sight, so would simply run behind someone who seemed to be going at the right pace. I can push myself quite nicely doing this, but each of my unwitting running partners were slowing and disappearing today. 7:05 for mile 3. Definitely getting hot now! Someone had set up a hosepipe to mist us. Welcome but brief. My pace fell off: 7:21 for mile 4. approaching marathon pace! I was following a young woman in an all-black outfit. She faltered. Darn it, there’s no one else but a guy in a white shirt and he’s 30-40 yards away!. I drew alongside her and she sped up again. Good. She did not hold if for long, and I passed her for good at the 5 mile marker. 7:27 – my slowest mile of the race. I got within about 30 yards of white shirt, who seemed to have accelerated slightly now that we were in the final mile.
We entered the College of Marin campus and passed the 6 mile marker (7:18). I was distracted for a moment by a volunteer calling “Turn left and follow the lane markers” while turning onto the running track, and a young woman in Impala colours zipped by on the inside. I applied myself and closed up behind her as we went down the back straight. A group of her team mates were there yelling encouragement and things like “He’s drafting you, kick, kick!” I smiled and waved at them and the tone became less aggressive. One of them laughed, and I resumed my close up study of her shoulder blades. We caught white shirt going into the final turn. Impala-girl somehow slipped inside him and I went outside, thus losing close contact. Just as we approached the line, I heard heavy breathing off my shoulder. White shirt had been stung into action and produced a nice sprint for the last 50 yards. I think he beat me to the line, but the three of us finished in the same second and I beat both of them on chip time. 44:48. A PR. I covered the last 0.2 at 6:54 pace.
I should really be able to run this distance about two minutes faster with the right preparation. Simply avoiding that fade in miles 4 and 5 would help quite a bit. That tends to happen to me in 10Ks and it’s a between-the-ears problem. I’ll try again soon.


Race PRs

5K20:43 (LMJS 6/28/09
10K43:44
12K54:36 (Across Bay 3/21/10)
15K1:09:51 (LMJS 19/27/09)
Half1:31:28 (Kaiser 2012
Marathon 3;13:14 (CIM '11)

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