Posts Tagged 'Trail'

A Visit To The Asylum, or My First 50K

So are ultra runners crazy? and what’s with all that food they have at their aid stations? These questions and more have lurked in the back of my mind for quite a while. While of the opinion that it is the job of ultra runners to make marathoners appear sane and normal, I have wanted to try one just to see how t was done. Who knows, I might even like it?

I think it was James, my online running friend from Pebble Beach, who first suggested running the 50K at Lake Chabot. This is not the Skyline 50 put on in the summer, but another race put on by Inside Trail Racing. As well as the 50K (31 miles), there are also 30K, half marathon and 10K distances.  Unfortunately James came down with a knee problem and was unable to make it. I vacillated for a while, then pulled the trigger and signed up with a week to go.

I had not prepared for this race especially, no back-to-back long runs or anything like that. I had not even done much trail running lately. I just tapered for a few days and went for it, telling myself that it was not a goal race and I would just take it easy.  It’s not just the distance that was a little daunting, but the hills. Here is the elevation profile:

A little hilly

Vertical scale exaggerated, of course, but each horizontal band is 200ft.

The course was two loops around the lake, the first being extended by a trip up the river valley towards Oakland. That section is about from mile 9 to 13. If you look carefully at the second hilly section, it’s a repeat of the first loop without that extra bit in the middle.

And so a cluster of runners assembled at the appointed time. There was no start line, we just faced the RD who addressed us with a bullhorn, reminding us of the color sequence of the trail markers. Then he said “Ready, Set, Go” and we were running.

OK, Jogging. We began on a paved trail, at an effort level that could perhaps be sustained for several hours. Slower than 9 minutes per mile, what I would normally think of as “recovery” pace. After a hundred yards, the trail sloped up for a short way. A voice within the throng groaned “Oooh, a hill!” and I blurted out “It’s OK, there aren’t any more after this!” which got quite a laugh.

We were soon off the pavement onto a fire trail, then over a single-track suspension bridge that creaked and bounced under our feet, then more fire trail. Uh oh, my pace was creeping down into the mid-8’s. Remember how far you’re going Jim? Gently does it. The runners were spreading out. Already by mile 3 I could only see two or three in front in front of me, although generally In this forest I could only see 50 yards or so most of the time. We got to the first serious hill at mile 3, and I only walked the really steep part, maintaining a slow jog up the rest. It’s a trick I leaned by observing other trail racers. You maintain a normal running cadence but take very short steps. Rather to my surprise I was able to keep doing this throughout the race. I half expected to be walking all the hills by the end! We turned onto a single track and rollercoasted through a fairly dense eucalyptus forest. Some of these rises were quite steep but short, and momentum from the downs carried me over the ups. I was probably going a little fast on those downs though, which I was to regret later.

More uphill jogging, then we switchbacked up an exposed hillside. I was slowly gaining on a small group in front. I caught up while they took turns to wriggle under a fallen tree. At the next turn  of the switchback the runner in front of me waved me through, and I recognized her. “Oh Hi Christine!” She is a fixture of the local trail running scene,  and passing her worried me a little. She was running the 30K, and her speed on the trails is close to mine. Was I going way too fast?

We got to the first aid station. I topped up my handheld bottle and grabbed at the various foodstuffs, putting them in my pockets for nibbling on the run. I knew those shorts with pockets would come in handy someday. Half a banana, Peanut M&M’s, pretzels, boiled potatoes, stuff like that. I munched while going up a gentle incline way from the station. So far so good, even if my pockets were rattling for a while. Love those peanut M&Ms.

For the next few miles I could not see anyone in front and had to pay close attention to the trail markers. I have run these trails before, but not this exact route. This was mostly gentle downhill until I reached the turnoff onto the orange marked section. I could see a runner in front now, a youngish guy in an orange shirt. he was slowing and would bend to rub a calf occasionally. We passed though another aid station, and spoke briefly. “Cramping up?” “No, but I ran a 100-miler last weekend”. Well that answers that question. Ultra runners are crazy. Looking around, I  was glimpsing Christine from time to time. She was pacing to keep me in sight, apparently. The sun was out, the temperatures cool,. It was a perfect day for running, in a rather beautiful valley.    I started up another switchback, jogging the straights and walking the corners. Christine had closed up  somewhat, and we made “Urrgh” noises at each other as I passed above her on the slope. Going down the other side I nearly missed two turns. I’m sure she noticed my sudden changes of direction. Things were uneventful for a while. Christine would close up on the ups, and I would go ahead again on the downs. I knew that at some point she would get to work and pass me. About 5 miles from the end of her race, I was going uphill and heard her signature “up, up, up” behind me. She came by and I urged her to “Go get ’em!”. No need, as it turned out. She won her age group by half an hour.

Oh cruel fate, there was an aid station right next to the finish line and I had to do another 20K yet.  Oh well, all in a day’s work. I was feeling pretty good. A little stressed, but  well past halfway, wondering if I would see any runners at all during the remainder of the race. Well, here was one already. A young woman running without a bottle. She confessed to having left it at home, and was having to do all her drinking at the aid stations. I had been throwing back a couple of cups of flat coke myself at each stop, which answered another ultra question. What’s so good about flat coke? It’s the nectar of the gods.   I left her behind on a downhill and was alone for a while. Still hammering those downhills.

I was still feeling OK at this point. A little stressed, but nothing out of the ordinary for the second half of a race. The pace felt natural now. As I got to mile 20 or so, the downhills became less comfortable, but it was a very gradual thing, no “wall” or anything like that.

I was keeping an eye on the Garmin as 26.2 miles approached. I missed the actual number because a rocky downhill was engaging my attention as the mark was passed. This was now my longest ever run, let alone race. I punched the air and let out a quiet “Yay!” Despite the fact that I was still jogging most of the uphills, I was fading quite a bit. The downs were becoming painful to my knees, although it was my quads that were getting the battering. The sensible approach for a non-goal race would be not to push hard against this, just plug away till the end. I would recover more quickly that way. The hills would not really let me do this though. There was nothing really steep enough to justify walking up, and I just had to grit my teeth for the downs. Three runners passed me in the last five miles but that was OK. I was going to finish.
And finish I did, in 5:35:01. A small group of people by the line whooped each runner in, and the RD told me I had come third in my age group. This was a slip, since I was listed 4th in the posted results. Oh well. I felt pretty bleh for the rest of the day, and my quads were extremely sore the next two days.  Plainly recovery would take a while. Will I run another? Ask me again in a few months.

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Lake Chabot Trail Challenge 2011

This race is a half-marathon run over the trails around Lake Chabot in Castro Valley. It departs from the edge of the lake to go over some hills that get it up to half marathon length.Some magazine (Runners World?) called it the toughest half marathon course in the country.

With just a week since running a 10K PR I was unsure what was in store here. My legs seemed to be in good shape, but the trails not so much. Normally June in the Bay Area is bone dry, but this year it was set to break a century-old record for monthly rainfall in the first few days. On the trails this means mud and plenty of it. This would slow everyone down equally, perhaps some more than me, but who am I trying to kid here? As if I am ever going to place on one of these hilly trail races. Hah!
We started along the paved trail along the lake shore for the first mile. This rolls up and down but was nothing compared to the hills to come. Once again I found myself in the company of Christine, and Debra, who was grumbling about the speed we were starting out. She had a point, this was a bit fast.
Leaving the pavement, I attacked the first hill fairly hard, running most of the way up until it got really steep near the top. The surface was a little slippery but presented few problems. On the descent the cleats on my trail shoes kept things under control and I gained some places.
After a level stretch and a suspension bridge across an arm of the lake, the serious climbing began. The big hill varied in gradient which resulted in a run-walk mix. Things seemed to be going well, and I moved up some more. There was one oldish guy who never seemed to walk, jogging slowly up the steepest gradients. He was a little faster than me on these sections, but I would catch him again on the levels and downs. It was one of these early downs that my race newly ended. My toe caught a protruding rock while I was going fast downhill. I took a couple of big steps before going down, and was able to tuck and roll. A chorus of “Oh my god, are you all right?” from nearby runners, and I jumped back up, retrieved my hat and drink bottle, declared “I’m fine, thank you.” and ran on. I noticed that my right shin was hurting somewhat and looked down to check that that was nothing stuck in it, but it was just scraped.
Shortly after this we came to a fallen tree. There was no getting around it, with the canyon going steeply up on one side and down on the other. It was all branches, with no trunk, so we had to climb over the branches near the top where they converged under gravity. Since I was already banged up and dirty I went fast over this obstacle in about 20 seconds. Some reported taking over a minute to get over it. There were some slippery downhills after this, where I skated the straight route instead of skirting the muddy bits. More gained places.
Near the top of the next uphill I looked around and saw Debra close behind. Not surprising, since this style of running is right up her street.
“So you caught me at last!”
“Just wanted to make sure you didn’t fall again.”
“Oh, you saw that?”
“Yes, it was scary!”
She went by. I was paying for my early speed here, but hopefully had enough in the tank for the remaining, mostly downhill, four miles.
It was a bit of a slog. I managed the downhill section OK, but did not have a lot of speed for the rolling section at the end. I had left behind most of my early companions from the hills, but was passed by a couple of younger guys and Barry of LMJS who seems to be running really well at present. I reached the finish in 2:01:51 by the official clock, just about three seconds slower than last year’s time. But there was no mud or treeclimbing last year. I came second in my age group, so perhaps I can place in these trail things after all.

Tilden Tough Ten 2011

Tilden Tough Ten 2011
I was not sure what to expect coming into this race, since I had taken a two week break, followed by a ramp up to quite high mileage in the previous weeks. This had not been long enough to build much of a base, so a course PR over last year’s 80 minutes might be difficult. Still, it would give me something to roughly gauge my current fitness.
Conditions were cool with some wind and intermittent rain, but fortunately it was not raining as we got ready for the start. With 300 runners on a not-very-wide paved trail, the sub-8:00 pace runners stepped up to the start first, followed by the rest. I found myself near the front with Christine and Debra, two masters runners who are fast on the trails(pretty good on the roads too). We needed to make up time on the paved section because the trail would be muddy and slow. Mile 1 was mostly downhill and took 7:01. One of the bends revealed a glorious view across the Bay. It looked to be raining quite hard over by Sausalito and the Golden Gate, so we could likely be expecting to be getting wet soon.
Mile 2: 7:29, more the sort of average we would need. I was still in close company with D. and C, feeling comfortable so far.
Mile 3: 7:27, some wind here on the more exposed areas, the rain was only an occasional sprinkling.
Mile 4: 7:49, A big down, then uphill in this mile, with a strong headwind and heavy rain. I’m surprised I ran it as fast as I did. Too fast perhaps. Debra was a short way ahead, Christine just behind.
Mile 5: 8:23. The muddy trail. The downhills were sufficiently steep and muddy to require slowing down. I passed Debra at this point while running on the grass for better traction. There were some cows on the trail coming towards us, one at a run. There was enough room to pass by them, fortunately.
Mile 6: 10:40. The uphill return. I walked the two steep uphills like most other people. We encountered the cows again, this time going in the same direction, two of them were running but they left the trail when it widened out. They mooed at us as we went by.
Mile 7: 7:49. Back on the pavement, I felt a little done in and should have run this mile faster. Debra came by on the downhill, and Christine soon after. At the moment things looked to be on track to equal or beat last year’s time, but the wind was picking up and mostly ahead, so the rest of the return leg was going to be hard work.
Mile 8: 8:25. Lots of uphill into the wind here.
Mile 9: 7:46. More sheltered and pushing hard. I passed Christine again on the steep uphill at the end of this mile. Debra seemed to be too far ahead to catch. I was passing a few other people though.
Mile 10: 7:43. Gently uphill, but well sheltered from the wind here. I closed on Debra a bit, but did not catch her. 1:20:49 finish (chip time). So A little slower than last year’s 1:20:00 but satisfactory. The difference was mostly the wind, I think. The performance slump of Kaiser and Napa seems to be over, and it’s time for some more aerobic building.

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.

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: Tilden Tough Ten 2010

A cool wind blew fog through the trees at Inspiration Point, and many of the 300 runners kept their sweats on until the last possible moment. Last year the Tilden Tough Ten was held in somewhat unpleasant heat, but we congregated for this year’s race on Sunday in decidedly different conditions. A range of running apparel was on view, with many opting for long sleeves or multiple layers. I crossed my fingers and wore singlet and shorts, my only nod to the conditions being woollen gloves. There was to be no messing around. I was on a mission and I had a plan.

The plan, discussed in a previous post, was basically to take things very easy for the first four miles, get more aggressive on the steep trail section in miles five and six, then go fast for the remaining four miles of hilly asphalt. The mission was to complete all this in under 80 minutes to earn a sub-80 shirt. This was the only award I could reasonably expect since this race draws a very deep talent pool, particularly in my age group.

“Taking it easy” basically meant averaging around 7:30 for the first four, in anticipation of the next two miles being considerably slower. I had figured that if the average pace displayed by my Garmin was no worse than 8:15 by mile six I would have enough speed to retrieve an 8:00 average by the finish. Using the GPS in this fashion allowed me to keep an idea of my progress without having to do any fancy calculations. However, there was a snag with this approach that I should have foreseen. More of that later.

I joined a group sheltering in the lee of the rest rooms, and a vaguely familiar guy in glasses came up and said Hello. “Are you Jim? I read your blog! It’s nice to meet someone famous.” He went on to say some nice things about it. It was only later that I realized that I had been talking to Jeff Teeters, who really is famous in Bay Area running circles. Nice guy.

We started on the initial short uphill, passing over the timing mats being used for the first time in this race, then commenced a longish downhill. Look at the pace – Easy does it! Holding things to 7:30 felt really easy at this point, like starting a marathon. Temperature-wise things were OK too, although we were still sheltered by trees in this area. I took an interest in the other runners, particularly the ones passing me. I know that this course punishes over-aggressive early pacing, and mused about seeing many of these these people again later. I was right about that. Pace was showing 7:20 at the first mile marker, OK for this mostly downhill mile. I ran this first mile sub-7 last year, which was way too fast. The next two miles rolled along uneventfully (7:33, 7:29). Some of the volunteers at the first aid station looked decidedly chilly. I was quite comfortable by comparison, despite being exposed to the crosswind on the open hillside now. The fog grew thicker, blowing up the hillside in clumps at considerable speed. Was there a tailwind component? Not sure. Someone was blowing a whistle up ahead, and an aid station appeared through the murk. Volunteers standing downwind of a truck with outheld cups. Thanks guys and gals. I don’t envy you at all, standing out here in this soup waiting for a bunch of runners to appear. For the half-mile uphill leading to the end of the asphalt I started to exert myself a little, and passed a runner. It still didn’t feel much like a race yet. At the end of the asphalt the pace so far was showing 7:35, which was satisfactory. Now to see haw fast I could manage the dirt section.

I passed two more runners on the rollers just as the leaders passed in the other direction. They looked impressive. Then came the steep downhills, skidding a little in my road shoes but staying in control thanks to to some patches of grass at the edge of the trail. One section here had been chewed up by cow hooves before hardening in the warm weather. It had smoothed out a little in the two weeks since we previewed the course, but still demanded attention. More places gained here. We reached the turnaround and started back up the hill. It was hard to pass anyone here due to the mass of runners coming the other way, but I used occasional gaps like an impatient sportscar driver on a crowded road. On the steepest section I did get somewhat stuck behind one runner and started to power-walk, keeping pace with his short uphill jog. A gap opened and I walked around him. He seemed somewhat startled by this and stated to walk too. A couple of guys ahead were walking as well, and I stated to run again as the slope lessened, passing them also. The strategy seemed to be working.

The pace display was at 7:59 when I regained the asphalt, which was cheering. I had covered the two dirt miles in 17:36, rather faster than I had allowed for. The sub-80 shirt, while not yet in the bag, was looking within reach. After the next downhill the pace showed 7:56, and it stayed within a second of that figure. The gloves were now in my waistband, this was becoming warm work and I was very glad I had not worn long sleeves. I picked off an occasional runner. There was quite a headwind now and it seemed the majority of people in my neighbourhood were slowing down. Except for one. “Good Job” said a young woman who cruised past. For a moment I wondered if I could speed up and stay in contact with her, but she was going at quite a clip and why take the risk? It looked like my goal was in the bag.

But was it? I had noticed that the Garmin’s mile splits were coming in ahead of the actual markers, but presumed that the difference was not significant. At 7:57 pace, I was 3 seconds per mile ahead, 30 seconds in 10 miles which seemed like a decent cushion. In fact the Garmin was optimistic by 2%, which amounted to 5 seconds a mile. I did not know it but I was falling behind schedule. I plugged up the short steep hill (dubbed “Puke Hill” by Karen A), reached the 9 mile marker, and switched to the elapsed time display. Hey wait a minute, I do not seem to have as much time as I thought to do this last mile. Better speed up! So I did. I passed another runner, then the only two I could see were a seemingly unattainable distance ahead. Here was the half-mile pole. I checked the time. Argh! 1:16:32. I have less than 3.5 minutes to cover the next half mile, uphill! I turned on the jets, and was pleasantly surprised to find that I still had jets at this point. Unlike the closing miles of a marathon, which to tell the truth are hard to enjoy, it was now quite pleasurable to be going all out. Those two guys were duly reeled in, and I crested the final hill. Someone called out “Go Jim!” as I accelerated towards the line and used most of the chute to stop. While a volunteer was ripping my tag I remembered to press the Garmin’s stop button. 1:20:04. Had it been four seconds since I crossed the line? The timer walked over. “You are the last sub-80”. Welcome words indeed, although I later discovered that my chip time was 1:20:00.22. Such precision in a trail race! I wish I had started my final charge maybe half a second earlier!

But I’ll keep the shirt. I beat last year’s time by 7:08. Yes it was hot last year, but still!

Ivan Medina, who won by 23 seconds in 0:59:05, (Sub-60 shirt!) was a not-very-close second when I saw him at the turnaround, so it appears that conservative early pacing worked for him too. And Jeff Teeters? He was 6th overall, and won my age group (50-59) in 1:04:21. I actually came in the bottom half of this group, 15th out of 26. Sheesh, tough crowd!

Dusting Off The Old Negative Split

Saturday provided a rather interesting practice run, and got me thinking about pacing strategy. The LMJS training group previewed the Tilden Tough Ten course which we will be racing in two weeks.. This is an out-and-back along four somewhat hilly miles of asphalt trail and a fifth mile of very hilly dirt trail. I had a vague plan to do some tempo running during the session but started out at a very easy pace, chatting with my fellow runners, and enjoying the beautiful weather. This was easy running. When I got to about mile 5, I found myself alone and started to increase the effort level. Miles 5 and 6, being on steep trail chewed up by cows, were necessarily slow,  and I didn’t push it too hard, walking up the steepest hill.  Once I got back on the asphalt trail I got down to business, staying close to tempo effort the rest of the way. Not race effort, just tempo. I got a surprise when I looked at my watch at the end. I had completed the course just 68 seconds slower than I raced it last year.  OK, that was a hot day, but it still seems that the easy-then-hard effort had produced an efficient result. Here’s the course profile from my Garmin.

Looks like a positive-split course, does it not? dropping about 200 feet on the outbound leg, then gaining it back on the return. But if you don’t count the middle two miles of trail, it looks much more even. Still hilly though.

Although it’s a trail race, there are some pace goals here. Running it sub-80 minutes gets you an imprinted shirt, and there are others for sub-70 and sub-60. Last year no one went sub-60. I only have to cut 6 minutes from my practice time to get a sub-80 shirt. Rather than try to compute a pace for each mile, I shall simply have the Garmin display average pace from the start which will give me an idea how I’m doing relative to that 8:00 goal. Last year the middle two miles took me 20 minutes., so the other 8 should average about 7:30 pace. My plan is to get to the 4 mile marker at 7:35 pace, and the 6 mile marker at 8:15 pace, about 90 seconds in arrears. Then I will “put the hammer down” as they say, and claw it back in the last four miles. That’s the plan, anyway.


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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