Sep 23, 2013

0997, 0998, 0999, 1000.

Running Streak Day 0001

The first day of Across The Year's 72-hour race, in its final year at Nardini Manor. I'm not going to look up the results, but my recollection is that I completed a dismal 50k in that first day, before some wild storms came in overnight which first soaked people to their bones and then froze everyone into popsicles. I finished that race with 106 miles, which is the first time I've gone a hundred miles in a single race.

Running Streak Day 1. Before the storms.
In the interest of brevity, let's skip a few days.

Running Streak Day 0997

This was a "fake zero" run, squished in a Friday afternoon after work. Having just come off a 100-mile attempt in Colorado, I've been week, tired, and lethargic all week and today was no exception. I ran a mile loop from my house and went shopping.

Running Streak Day 0998

After sleeping until 10 (again with the recovery), I packed up the family and drove to Queens Hall Of Science to visit Maker Faire. We were there until about 6pm. Our car was parked a third of a mile away, so I told Alex I'd go get the car and pick them up. Wearing denim shorts and a cotton t-shirt, and carrying a shopping bag, I ran to the car, but instead of stopping I did a quick 2/3 mile loop when I got there bringing the total distance run to just over a mile.

Running Streak Day 0999

I planned to do this run with some friends from the tri club, but the issue was that everyone had their own schedules to attend to and I was still in hardcore recovery mode. One person ran with me - 3 miles in about 33 minutes - and then we went for coffee. Over the next two hours about a dozen people trickled in, after they either finished their runs or just came in for a coffee after not running due to injury. That was fun. I then went to church and took a nap.

Running Streak Day 1000

At around day eight hundred I put a meeting entry on my work calendar for this occasion, at at around day nine hundred I invited a half-dozen of my regular running group to join me. Then this happened and three of the six people are no longer around in Park Ridge. Then I caught a cold and couldn't even go to work that day. What a drag! So I worked from home for a few hours (not very productively) and then took a ten-minute drive to Ramapo Reservation with my wife where I did a counter-clockwise lap of the pond, then turned around ran clockwise until finding my wife who was walking a loop. I then stopped my watch and walked back to the car with her.

Streak runs are not always very glamorous, even when they're major milestone runs. But that's kind of the point, isn't it?

1.37 miles in 14:54. That's a sick man run right there.
This is what my log looks like today

Sep 19, 2013

RR: San Francisco 50 Mile Endurance Run: 13:55

(Note: This report was completed and forgotten in draft for a month. I noticed it when I wrote the report for RRR 100. So even though it was posted after RRR weekend, it's mostly written from a pre-RRR perspective.)

Mile 25

Finished in 13:55. Amazing course. More difficult than I thought it would be, due to steepness of climbs. Almost no flat. No issues with stomach, hunger, electrolytes, or ankle. Cool day, mostly overcast due to marine layer - temp was in low 50s at the start and finish and probably never exceeded 65F. Insanely awesome course. Highly recommended!!


When I was planning what has become my annual summer trip to visit my parents' in California, I looked to the race calendar to find a nice long race that I can use as training for Run Rabbit Run. I came across this one and it sounded perfect. I love the Marin Headlands and would would take any opportunity to run there. 50 miles with lots of climbs would make an ideal training run, and since it coincided with a 100-mile race, it had a very generous cutoff allowing me to run at as slow a pace as I liked without worrying about being pulled. Plus the price was right at $90. I would have preferred something at altitude with a couple of steep climbs in the 2500-3500' range, and this was at sea level with numerous 600'-1000' climbs with a wide range of steepness. But all in all, it was certainly sufficient. So I registered.

This is a low-key race which had a mere 10 finishers in the 100 miler and 58 in the 50 mile. I was in fact surprised at how small it was, since I knew it to be an amazing course. It's an inexpensive race in an unbelievable setting where the start line is literally 15 minutes from downtown San Francisco. The race had fantastic schwag where I got a really nice pull-over jacket, and they gave really nice belt buckles to finishers in both races. And it didn't seem like any corners were being cut - 6 aid stations per lap and they were well stocked.

And yes, I love the Marin Headlands. It blows my mind that such an amazing place is a 15-minute drive from downtown San Francisco and yet is not constantly inundated with people. I didn't take too many photos this time, but if I did you'd see lots of grassy hills with amazing views wherever you go, and also historical significance.

The Course

Two loops, run washing-machine style (first one clockwise, second counter), 90% dirt, majority of which is road or doubletrack. I understand it's identical to the Headlands 100 course.

Clockwise profile


The starting line is at sea level on the road between the parking lot and Rodeo Beach, and from there it quickly climbs 840' the ridge to the south. It descends into Tennessee Valley and then back towards the ocean for a mile or two until getting near sea-level before climbing over another 570' ridge and down into Pirate's Cove (sea level.) It climbs a smaller 430' ridge out of Pirates Cove and descends again into Muir Beach. After a short out-and-back to the aid station (which again is at sea level), the trail gradually climbs to the course's highest point at 1025' in two miles before descending back into Tennessee Valley*, elevation 200'. This is then followed by a solid gradual 2-mile climb to 870' before a really nice long 3-mile gradual descent back into the valley we started at. The next portion is where the course's views become most impressive. Runners climb from sea level to 920', traversing the ridge that separates the park from Sausalito. The highlight of the entire course is the portion of the ridge where you can see the ocean to your right, and San Francisco to your left. It truly is a spectacular spot.

180ยบ Panorama from this spot. Click for a larger view.
The next 6 miles are generally downhill (with two 200' climbs) back to the starting line. Then we do the whole thing again, backwards.

Steve's Race

I had a good uneventful day. Finished shortly after it got dark. I ran very conservatively, walked all the hills, didn't pound the downhills, listened to a lot of great podcasts. I never dealt with pain of any kind, didn't have any issues with food, hydration, or electrolytes, and really enjoyed the day. I didn't talk to many people because the course was too spread out and the field too sparse to encounter other runners. The only part of the course where I really struggled was the second climb out of Pirate's Cove at about mile 42. It is very steep in that direction and I had to take a lot of breaks to catch my breath. Around Tennessee Cove mile 45 I encountered several 100-mile runners starting their third loop and I was overwhelmingly happy that I a was almost done and didn't have to do what they were doing, but at the same time frightened out of my mind that I will be in their shoes a month later at Run Rabbit Run. After I finished, there was time to go get In-And-Out burger with my family. This race once again reminded me of why 50 miles is my favorite distance.

Hey Look, they've got a van!
Race HQ
The view from the starting line
Starting Field (both 50 and 100 mile runners)
Mile 1: Artifacts of the Military Base that was here
Interpretive sign about that gun
Cypress (?) Trees in Tennessee Valley
Starting the ascent out of Tennessee Valley/Cove
Descent into Pirate's Cove. Arrr.
Unbelievable views
View towards that ridge with the amazing views
Belt Buckle for 50 mile finishers

*This part of the course could have used more confidence flagging. I went about a mile without seeing anything and ended up backtracking until I found a runner more familiar with the area who I could follow.

Sep 18, 2013

Quick Report: Run Rabbit Run 100: Timed out at 65

Run Rabbit Run: This race is a lot harder than it looks, and it looks really damned hard.
Top of the first climb, where Alex and Joey were volunteering at the mile-4 aid station.
(Notice in the background how high above the valley we've climbed.)
RRR100 doesn't waste time telling you what you're in for. The first 2 miles gain 2000', and it took me an hour to complete those two miles. My only other high-altitude mountain ultra - The Grand Teton 50 - gets runners up to 10,000' twice and then immediately descends. This race gets you up that high three times, and then keeps you that high on rolling hills for 6-12 miles before descending. I didn't think this was a big deal before the race, but realized in miles 4-10, where I assumed I'd be cruising some gently rolling single-track, that the altitude made comfortable running all but impossible.

Ascending at mile 2. Pictured is Craig Wilson, who I spent many miles with.
In the interest of brevity, let's skip forward to mile 42, where I found myself lying flat on my back in the Winter Olympics training center with an EMT pressing my fingernails figuring out what is wrong. I had never felt so bad in any race in my life.

* My electrolytes were off; having peed only once in the race so far, in minuscule quantities and bright yellow. This is despite emptying a 100-oz camelbak reservoir four times.
* I hadn't eaten enough, causing blood sugar to crash and intensifying my already grumpy mood (that is what the EMT suggested after asking a bunch of questions - and he was right. Stupid rookie mistake.)
* I was facing a 1000-meter rocky technical climb, alone, with exposed sections, on wet surfaces, at night, with severe thunderstorms in the area.
* After that 1000-meter climb, I'd be looking at another 6 miles of rolling terrain at high altitude, similar to that which sucked the life out of me in miles 4-10.

Upper Fish Creek Falls (~mile 14 going down hill, and mile 46 going up)
They took good care of me at that aid station. Fed me until I was ready to burst and kicked me out the door. I was in dead last place, and the sweeper, Amy, was waiting for me before she could go - which made her my de facto pacer, so I didn't have to do it alone. And the storm that I had seen from across the valley, which I found out later caused several people to drop, was gone by the time we got there.

Long story short, after an hour in that aid station and almost 5 hours of slow relentless forward motion I made it to the top - but now I was behind the cutoff with no hope of making it to the mile 65 aid station in time for the hard cutoff there. I could have waited there at mile 50 for a ride down but instead I opted to continue with Amy another 15 miles - staggering in fatigue for the last hour before dawn, and then unable to maintain a 20-minute-per-mile pace downhill. But we did finally arrive there at 10am, two hours late, and I was removed from the race. There is no doubt I would have continued had they let me, but honestly I was facing a 15-hour death-march. I would have preferred the opportunity to death march, but I have to admit - being pulled felt a bit like a mercy shooting.

My progress as an ultrarunner is apparent even through my failure at this race. I worked harder for those 65 miles than I had for 100 miles at Umstead, or 150 miles at Across the Years. I had opportunities to quit at mile 42, 50, and 56, and yet I continued. I was willing to continue past 65 as well. In the past I had quit ultras for less - a lot less - but I opted to keep going until race officials told me to stop. My only regret, in fact, was making a couple of rookie mistakes. I should have known better.

If my situation allows, I'd like to go back next year to take care of some unfinished business.

This award has my name on it.
Finally - Many thanks to those of you who helped make this happen. (You know who you are.) I am very grateful for your support.