Tuesday, April 14, 2015

[No] Sugar: 2015 Lake Sonoma 50 Micro-Report

With all the social media pictures, memes and click-bait out there, who has time to read an entire, content-laden weblog post?  A reality in modern fitness and self-help media is that people will read content only if in list-form.  That said, I'll do what I can with a bulleted, micro-report:

  • As a general rule, the "Couch to 50-Mile Trail Race" Plan should be longer than three weeks:  Due to a prolonged Achilles injury, I didn't run the bulk of February or March, only beginning running on March 27. Wishful thinking, and a deep-seeded FOMO drove me to pin on Bib #14 for the 2015 Lake Sonoma 50
  • My longest run since Bandera 100K in January was 23 miles and three hours.  I had not run over 11 miles or 1h40m since early February.
  • The plan was to run this race truly easy, as a "training race".
  • The term "training race" should be added to a long list of garbage ultrarunning terms whose current most accurate definition is, "Any race where one decides to not commit 100% of abilities", or "I'm not in shape, so I'm gonna run really slow and pretend I'm not trying that hard".  This includes, for many, running at 99%.  Or, running at 105%, then dropping out.  Given that most "race efforts" are always run between 95-100%, anything other than a structured sub-maximal game plan is...well, a race!  
  • I was committed to avoiding these cop-outs and having measurable parameters. My goal was run cruise at a heart rate of 150 bpm for as long as my Achilles would allow.  
  • I missed the start of an ultra for the first time, ever.  I was stretching in the parking lot when, unexpectedly, I heard a whistle, then a slow migration of the herd.  Oops!  Gotta go!
  • Bullet-form is a great way to cast blame on others, as well as neatly outline a litany of excuses.  Blame #1: Why did BGD let me eat mediocre-grade mozzarella cheese sticks the night before the race?  He knew my history with low-quality imitation-Italian food products, pre-race, dammit!  C'mon, coach! 
  • Guilt admission #1: I received illegal aid along the course.  At 2K.  Running along, weaving through the masses, I could already feel gastrointestinal malaise.  Thankfully, Callie drove past me and parked to take pictures.  This allowed me to stop at the car and fish out some In N Out Burger napkins for future use.  
  • Pro-Tip #1:  always save the 53 extra napkins you receive with each In N Out Burger order.  Put them in your car glove box for future use. Like good karma, they'll be there for clutch utility, such as spilled coffee, allergic ooze, or impending mozzarella cheese stick revolt.
  • One of my favorite things to do in the early stages of an ultra is to develop new ideas for ultrarunning columns.  One of them came quickly in those early miles, "X # of Easy Things Elite Ultrarunners are Doing That You Aren't (and They're Not Running Farther and Faster)" Spoiler alert: one of them is running tangents on a wide, paved course.
  • Two-and-a-half miles in, I was so excited to see Billy Yang, I ran completely off course and fertilized some native flora.
  • Upon collecting myself (and "covering my tracks"), I proceeded back on course.  My major focus, besides HR discipline, was mechanical efficiency.  Heavy emphasis during Sonoma was quick feet, strong arms and hips: upward drive and downward push (the latter, especially on uphills).  I was fantastic at this in '12 and '13, and need to get back to that.  
  • I had the pleasure of meeting a bunch of new folks along the trail.  Among them was Jaclyn Greenhill from Marietta, Georgia, running her first West Coast vertical ultra.  She seemed to quickly fade back after asking me, "What your best time on this course?" (didn't mean to be @douchebagultra, just being honest). Given that nearly everyone went out way too hard, I'm happy to see she eased off the gas and finished well.  
  • After the multiple stops, the pace improved and I ran well along the lake toward Warm Springs.  For the first time, I made some Andy Jones-Wilkins-like micro-splits of that segment for future use.  The return segment from Warm Springs (38) to Island View (45) is notoriously brutal and seemingly unending.  But here's what I learned:  
    • The top of the big clearing - where one climbs away from the lake and crosses a small stream, is "The Four-and-a-Half Mile Creek".
    • From there, there are three more creek crossings: mostly hoppers, but a couple splashers:  "Four Mile", "Three Mile", and "Two Mile Creeks".  
    • Lastly, there is a random blue bike frame nailed to a tree.  That is one-and-a-half miles from Island View cutoff
  • Though unconfirmed, someone mentioned a random bathtub (used for water collection for horses) as being 2-miles to go from the finish.  Such micro-splits are extremely useful, mentally, to break up a challenging part of the race.
    • I spent some good quality miles running with Katie DeSplinter, and later reeled in James Varner en route to Warm Springs AS at 11.6. I would later find out we were in about 90th place at that point!  Given how "honest" I was running at that point, it was a real shocker, and a mild commentary on how runners - top to bottom - choose to pace themselves at ultras.  
  • Because I was running at a low intensity, I chose not to pump myself full of sugar. Yes, carbs are key for optimal race performance, but less of them are necessary -- in training and racing -- when you optimize fat metabolism, and they're seldom necessary at all in sub-maximal (namely sub-anaerobic) training and racing.  That said, I chose to fuel on water and banana chunks, only.  I took 2-3 chunks at Warm Springs and hiked along.
  • That said, I did have some "Sugar" along the run.  I had this song in my head for a good 20+miles:
 "...neeed a little sweetness, innn my liiiife!"
  • Allergies are a perennial issue at LS50.  This day was no different. Though I took an Allegra the night before, the heart rate was still elevated.  15x heart rate didn't get me much between Warm Springs and Madrone.  What took 56 minutes in 2013 took 71 this year...including another mozzy-stick fertilizer drop-off.   
  • There were tons of friendly folks on the course. Madrone wins as Friendliest Aid Station Award
  • Is it me, or does Madrone AS continue to move farther down the hill each year?  Another couple installments, and the AS will be a floating pontoon aid!  More bananas here, and a load of hiking uphill, toward the random spectators at the top of the hill that were great, too.
  • I ran mostly alone over the top of the Madrone climb, toward the bottom of The Big Hill.  This is where I first felt my Achilles - the first real symptoms of any kind in close to three weeks.  Uh-oh.  Not...not great.  The implication of those teeny blips far outweighed the benefit of an 8-hour training run, so I committed to quitting at the halfway point.
  • Ten-time Western States finisher Luanne Park came into view at the base of the hill.  We ran along together for a few meters while the first of the men's leaders doubled back on us.  
  • Swear to God, Alex Varner was running faster uphill at us than I was running down it.  He was among the few top guys looking real good, but we all know what a poser he is.  #winkface
  • When Jake ran by, in about 15th place, I doubled back and ran with him a good quarter mile, feeding him intel and encouragement (this confused Luanne quiet a bit...). He was looking good, but well back and with "only one gear", he said.  
  • Doubling back, I hiked nearly the entire climb, until the course leveled out in rollers.  A lot of folks were struggling, but many looked fantastic, including crafty veteran Topher Gaylord, local Eugene Hunter Lewis Taylor, and the dominating eventual women's winner, Stephanie Howe.  
  • It took me a while, but I gradually caught up to Luanne again, then reeled in a few more folks over the final lollipop, allowing the HR to spike above 160 at points.  However, at no point did the effort feel labored.
  • At No Name AS (mile 25.2), I felt immense guilt about the prospect of dropping, and even lingered around the well-staffed, fan-friendly AS before making the decision.  Jimmy Dean Freeman was just leaving, imploring me to run with him.  When he finds out that his wife Katie aided and abetted my DNF, he's gonna be pissed!
  • I tested out my Achilles, and it didn't seem very sore to stretched.  But declared my drop to Stan Jensen at the aid, just the same, and called it a day.
  • Katie Freeman was nice enough to give me a ride back to the start.  In all fairness, I technically "helped crew" Jimmy Dean: I think I carried a water bottle of his for about 50 meters back to his car.
  • Hanging out, post-race, after an early DNF is weird. Thankfully there were some other quitters about, including Victor Ballesteros and Ian Sharman to spread out the shame...and crack the first Racer 5's.
  • Once again, Lake Sonoma didn't disappoint on weather.  Though breezy, it was balmy and enjoyable, allowing this pale Oregonian to get some sun as we awaited the finishers.  
  • After a long day of crewing, photographing and encouraging, Callie returned, and she and I walked down the course to watch the finishers.  Huge congrats to Alex for a tremendous course-record run. Ryan Bak was a couple miles behind, followed by Jared Hazen.  
  • The surprise of the day was Jorge Maravilla's fourth place - and Western States Ticket-winning performance.  Mr Fabulous has yet to cease to amaze me with his speed, versatility and toughness.  However, he has some decisions to make in the coming days and weeks: 1. Does he take the ticket?, and 2.) What does he need to do with training and racing between now and The Last Saturday in June to karate kick across the line in Top Ten, as opposed to shuffling in for a buckle?  

I was really happy with this half-ultra effort, for several reasons:
  • While not severe, my left Achilles ached for the entire rest of the day.  Three days post, it seems back to normal.  The right decision was made. I ran four hours at 155 average heart rate, on what amounted to about 1.3 bananas and water.  The effort was measured and without any low points.
  • The stride felt fantastic.  I felt like my arm swing and trunk stability was the best it's been since Waldo, and I was most sore in the glutes, with minimal other-leg soreness.  For the first time in several months, I felt truly fast and - should push had come to shove - capable of throwing down a fast pace.  But I'll be saving that for later...
  • Most remarkable, my right quad was slightly more sore than my left.  This wasn't compensatory; in fact, this is the first time in an ultra where I feel I didn't overload my left side - a long-time issue.
  • I had no toe pain, no blisters, no lost toe nails, and - wait for it - no blown-up ankles.  This was because of....
  • "Elite Feet": One major focus - and fodder for another column - was a focus on what I'm calling "Elite Feet".  Having to do with foot strike, tempo and power, it was huge in helping keep me efficient and engage my glutes!
  • Like my 27-mile sub-threshold run at Elijah Bristow 24 last year, I feel like this run could be a great launching point for a fit, fast summer and beyond.  
  • What I told everyone over the course of the weekend, is, "I need to get back to being a normal runner".  A normal runner does normal things - easy runs, tempo runs, track sessions, and long runs - and does them efficiently and with minimal pain or discomfort.  Often times, ultrarunners get caught up in preparing for "crazy stuff" - long distances, or gnarly terrain that requires "abnormal" preparations: long and steep climbs, punishing descents and everything in between - not necessarily to improve overall fitness, but simply to survive.  This is outside the realm of what I call, "normal".  Instead the foundation for fast and sustainable running of all types is "being normal".  Developing an aerobic base, threshold strength, and VO2Max speed and efficiency, all the while staying mechanically precise, is the foundation for all successful running.  Indeed, most runners enter the sport with such a foundation, yet tend to easily lose it when hampered by injury, burnout, or FOMO-driven impatience.  I've experienced some of each over the past two years. And now, coming off this injury, the emphasis is on "being normal"
  • A four-hour, reasonably paced trail long run was a reasonably normal thing to do!
  • I have no plans - none - to race in the next four to five months. I'd like to return to McKenzie River 50K in September, but beyond that, I have no strong racing interests in the summer and fall.  
  • My goal is to "be normal" and develop prolonged, sustainable fitness - interrupted by long-ultra post-race destruction - between now and the end of the year, and come into 2016 with the same fantastic fitness and speed I had in 2013 - only more sustainably.

Many thanks to generous folks who spread their love amongst us last weekend:

  • to our hosts, Marilyn and John Farnsworth, for the fabulous weekend accommodations in a peaceful valley outside Healdsburg.
  • to Mary Prchal, for organizing volunteers and runner hosts, and for hosting us for post-race dinner and drinks at her home, Saturday night
  • to John Medinger and Lisa Henson, who have the uncanny knack to make a world-class, professional, competitive ultramarathon also feel warm, relaxed and effortless.  True grace!  
  • to The BGD Family: Karen May, Mike and Tracy Kelly and Sara and Sadie Rydman for being out there, once again to cheer us on, and celebrate another year in the sun.  Really love you guys!
  • to the ultrarunning community, for another warm, welcoming, memorable weekend. There are so many great people and stories out there, and I'm privileged to learn a few more of them, each event.
  • to Callie Alice, who was the tireless crew / ultra enthusiast and travel companion for the weekend.  Little do folks know how much she loves trail running, and how damn good at it she is.  But they'll find out soon enough...
 Assorted Pictures

He actually ordered all this for himself.  And nearly ate it all, too.  Pre-race meal. 

My precise position, when the starting whistle sounded and the race began. 

AS Garbage Can has a new girlfriend: tall and slender, soft, and eco-conscious.

"RIIIIIGHT?"  Around town Saturday evening with BGD, Sadie and Sara

"Pezzi Of The King" - Sonoma County, CA
Tropical John addresses the wine tasters at the Wilson Family residence. Another beautiful post-race day.
Santa decided to show up, dressed in his offseason attire.

She makes me look good.

Big-time day-after-jog.  Huge vert!  Not sure how you can get 32' of gain and only 8' of loss on a "loop" trail.

Founder's Tree at Founder's Grove / Avenue of the Giants.  320' tall.

This is what happens when Callie doesn't run for two consecutive days.

The beach outside of the old HI Redwoods Hostel, just north of Klamath, CA, along the NorCal coast.