Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Dick Collins FIRETRAILS 50 MILER Race Review

On October 13, 2012 I ran the Dick Collins Firetrails 50 Miler (I fell off the blogging wagon for a bit so I'm writing this at a later date)... "Firetrails" is an awesome ultramarathon that is run on an out and back course through the East Bay Hills in the San Francisco Bay Area.

I live in San Francisco so I woke up at about 5am and sped out to the East Bay to check in and make the 6:30am start. It was totally dark out so the starting/parking area was a bit messy... I decided to go without a flashlight because dawn was breaking around that time and didn't want to carry the extra weight.  I didn't realize that this would limit my toilet options to one bathroom... the park has other port-o-potty style bathrooms but no lights. There was a huge line for restroom and luckily I got in and out just in time. A few unlucky runners started a bit late.

As I made my toward the start, I heard the count down and as I reached the start we were off! Oops... i forgot to tie my shoelaces :) ...ok now we were off. The first few miles are alongside the Lake Chabot bike trail before the course climbs up into the hills for a few rolling miles before dropping into the valley. "Firetrails" is one of those legendary races that attracts true ultrarunners; it is an ultra marathoners ultramarathon. Many seasoned runners made for a great day on the trails. People were friendly, competitive, respectful and working hard.

We pressed on through magnificent redwood groves in Redwood Regional Park and started back into the hills. The aid stations are great at this race. They are well stocked, manned by great volunteers and nice distances from each other. I ran w two 12 oz Amphipod handheld water bottles. One for h2o and one for GU sports drink. I also carried my own GU's and Picky Bars. I started fueling early and felt good through the first half of the race. I definitely felt like I had energy to burn. My race strategy was to pace myself through the first half, hit the turnaround somewhere between 4:30 and 5hrs and then go back hard for a negative split. I was hoping to finish as close to 9hrs30min as possible. I hit the turn around at 4:55 and started back up the long climb to Grizzly Peak. I felt very strong through the climb but once I got to the top indigestion hit (this was about mile 30 or so).... i need a port-o-potty something fierce! This slowed my roll for about 5 minutes coming into the aid station which had a restroom. Spent a few more minutes in there and then got back out on the trail but not feeling much better. I think I over did it with the Picky Bars early in the first half. They are solid food and have about 200 cal per bar. I pushed on at a slow pace trying to get my system right. Finally after another 8 miles or so I started to come back to life. I grabbed my headphones from my crew and started the descent into Redwood Regional Park. All of a sudden I was back! With about 12 miles to go I kicked into gear running about a 9 min/mile pace. I was feeling great. I motored on through the last 10 miles, rocking out and enjoying my comeback. I crossed the finish line in 10:03. I was pretty spent, a little bummed about the indigestion but feeling good about the comeback in the end.

Overall Dick Collins Firetrails 50 was an awesome race! Julie Fingar (race director) does a great job putting this one together. Thanks Julie and to everyone who volunteered their time.  

Friday, August 31, 2012

Tamalpa Runners HEADLANDS 50K Race Review

As I was running downhill to Stinson Beach on the Matt Davis Trail my foot caught an old steel peg that used to hold a wooden stair in place. I was airborne going head first towards a tree. Everything slowed down. Was this my life flashing before my eyes? If so, I wasn't seeing anything? I had time to contemplate how this was either going to end. Result A) me unconscious on the trail of the trail or B) couple broken bones. I somehow turned my body a bit and ended up giving the tree a body check (hockey style) with my left shoulder. Naturally, the tree did not budge and I let out a huge unintentional grunt as my body crumpled around the trunk of the tree. I hit the ground and began to slide down the hill. Luckily, I was still conscious and a pleasant fern lent me a hand to stop my downhill slide. I scrambled back up to the trail and up onto my feet. I ran a quick diagnostics test over my body and to my surprise everything felt in tact. I was able to carry on, amble along, hobble on downhill the hill. Eventually my hobble turned into a trot and into a real stride.

Now, let's rewind about 25 miles.... It was a fantastically foggy morning at Santos Meadow just up the road from Muir Beach. Great running weather. Everyone was shivering as they picked up their bibs, chatted it up with old and new running buddies and prepped for the 31.5 hilly (7,300' up and 7,300' down) miles that lay ahead... even Dean Karnazes was shivering. 

Off we went at 8am heading south towards San Francisco. We ran along alongside highway 1 until about where we started our first big climb out of Muir Beach. This section of trail is phenomenal. The views are exceptional and it is just flat out excellent single track along the coastal cliffs. The average pace was decent and people were cool with passing and sharing the trail. We wound our way up and down towards Rodeo Beach where we encountered the aid station 1. All of the aid stations were really well stocked and manned. The volunteers in this race were fantastic!! (Seriously, Thank you!) I was able to easily navigate each aid station which in some races can be harder than navigating the trail. Prior to the race, I armed myself with some GU Roctanes and my new favorite running fuel, PICKY BARS!!! These things are seriously awesome, dude (you'll get that joke later). They have a great carb to protein ratio (4:1 yo!), go down easily and taste good too (No Gluten sucka!). They provide excellent sustained energy (no highs and lows). I highly recommend them. I was really diligent about my fueling on this race and it paid off. I felt really good the whole time (well most of the time). 
(That's me running up out of Muir Beach.)
After the Rodeo aid station I pressed on up the Miwok trail (a trail that I train on a lot) heading north towards Mt. Tamalpais. It's always fun racing a course that you're familiar because among other things you know how to use every inch of it to your advantage. This stretch of trail is challenging but I know where I can really push myself but I tried to remember to save some energy for the last two steep technical sections. I loved flying down the Old Springs Trail into Tennessee Valley (always a fun one) where you could hear the cheers of the volunteers and spectators at the aid station. We climbed out of Tennessee Valley back on up the steep Miwok trail. For some reason this where I began to pass most of the people I passed during the race. After you make it up to the ridge it is sort of rolling hills that turn into downhill to Muir Woods where you connect with the Dipsea Trail to climb Cardiac Hill. I think knowing this part of the trail helped me push through the rolling and keep a solid but comfortable pace. Cardiac Hill took its toll on me and I was happy to reach the aid station at the top. I snagged a couple PB&J squares, chugged two cups of water, re-upped my GU brew supply and took off on this relatively flat couple of miles to the steep technical downhill section of the Matt Davis trail which takes you to Stinson Beach. I was eating my Picky Bars towards the top of most major climbs or during the rolling hill sections to recover from a climb and to fuel the larger muscles you use when going downhill. I waited to the half way point to have my first Roctane which gave me a great kick because I am not a regular coffee drinker (anymore). I had a very small cup of coffee the day before to get my digestive system used to the caffeine (this helps!). 

As I pressed on the rolling trail and was feeling really strong. I was pushing my pace, starting to play with that redline zone. The trail turned into its steep technical downhill through the trees towards Stinson Beach and I was moving with it well... or so I thought. I had a few passing conversations with fellow runners as we whipped through the turns and then BOOM! I hit the tree. I was back on my feet but moving along again at now a much slower pace. I tried to shake off the blow. I made it down to Stinson a bit rattled but moving ok. I turned back up the Dipsea trail to start the last steep technical stairy (with one 10ft ladder) ascent up Steep Ravine Trail. I really started to feel the mental affect of the crash on this part. My race mentality got knocked out of me and was laying there somewhere back up on the Matt Davis trail. With a little help from some motivating fellow ultrarunners I made it to the top of Steep Ravine in no kind of record time. At this point my back was tightening up a bit (something I have never really felt before while running so I attributed it to the "tree-check") and the feet were ready to stop. I cruised down the last 3 miles to the finish. 5:44 was my official time which I felt pretty good about considering the crash and I'm training through this race for the Dick Collins Firetrails 50. Overall, I had a fantastic day and really enjoyed running the Headlands 50K. I will be back to do it again! Thanks Tamalpa Runners!

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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Tahoe Rim Trail Thru-Hike 2012; 165 Miles Around Lake Tahoe

This post is not about running. It is about endurance. June 30 - July 13th, 2012 my girlfriend and I thru-hiked the 165+ mile (29,500' +/- of elevation gain and descent) TAHOE RIM TRAIL. This is a truly sensational trail that weaves through the mountain peaks that surround Lake Tahoe. I have a background in endurance races particularly on trails. I am a runner that mostly runs trail races ranging in distance from 10 to 50 milers (hoping to throw down a few 100 milers in the future). My gf however is not a runner but she is tough! :)

The Tahoe Rim Trail is a true test of endurance. It was really tough; mentally and physically. First of all, this was my first real backpacking trip. Being a runner I am used to ticking off the miles fairly quick so it was a tough adjustment for me to get used to doing about 2-3 miles/hr. Physically, I live at sea level so adjusting to the altitude was a little tough and hiking above 9100' consistently seemed to slow our roll a bit... especially with a 40lb pack on.

We started out in Tahoe City and headed clock wise around the lake. Some of the highlights were camping at Martis Peak; hiking up to Relay Peak (10,300'); the whole eastern ridge area including Marlette Peak and Lake, South Camp Peak; Star Lake; Meiss Meadow; and of course Desolation Wilderness. The hike had its highs and lows but the highs were far and away greater than the lows. All of these pictures as you can probably guess do not do the trail justice.
GEAR!... I brought a Delorme Satellite Communicator with us for a bit of fun and additional safety. It allowed our friends and family to go to a webpage and track us and we were able to send pre-written messages from the device letting them know we were ok. It also comes equipped with a SOS button to contact rescue networks and send them our location if we were in an emergency situation. We enjoyed having it with us and I highly recommend it to anyone. It had service the whole time. You can also connect your iphone/smartphone to it and communicate via text w anyone no matter how far out you are.
(Marlette Lake w Lake Tahoe behind)

For our water filtration we used two different Sawyer Water Filters, the hanging gravity filter and the squeeze filter. Both were great and the squeeze filter was excellent at stream crossings to cut time.

I carried an Osprey Atmos 65 backpack. It was about 40lbs average the whole time... somehow my backpack got heavier as the trip went on and my gf's got lighter! Strange :) As far as food, our staple was definitely Clif Bars and Core Warrior Bars! I highly recommend the Core Warrior Bars but they only last 1 week without being refrigerated. For dinner we had a hot backpacker meal each night that was usually some sort of pasta dish which we mixed tuna or salmon into. I brought electrolyte pills which were very useful on the hotter days and at higher elevations.

The Tahoe Rim Trail was one of the best outings of my life. It was an amazing experience and one that makes you think deeply about how you're living your life. Here's a few additional photos...

Wednesday, June 20, 2012


Speed work, it's a grey area in running... but it sure as shit shouldn't be :) The track is more packed than ever these days but its mostly packed with training groups that are either just logging miles and cross training or skimming the surface of speed work. Don't get me wrong there are definitely some serious track clubs out there that some of the best non-professional runners belong to but at least at my track (Kezar Stadium in San Francisco) they are not the majority. So if you're a runner who is logging some serious miles, training for a race or just run for the seek of running, go hit the track and feel the immediate benefits of running as fast as you can.

When was the last time you flat out ran as fast as you could? I'm sure some of you are saying a couple of hours ago but most of you probably can't remember. The number one reason to go out and run as fast as you can is because it feels so good... you don't even need a track! The nice thing about the track is that it makes it easy for you to break your workout into different distances. This is useful if you're training for a particular race... half marathon: run mostly 400s and 800s, full marathon: run 400s, mostly 800s and some mile repeats, ultramarathon: try to stick to the mile repeats while incorporating 100s, 400s and 800s. Whatever you're training for always do the shorter "as fast as you can" distances which would be a 50, 100 or 200. Check this video of Bart Yasso explaining his legendary marathon timing training technique/theory called the Yasso 800s:

Running as fast as you can builds strength, improves running form, increases your VO2 Max and improves anaerobic capabilities (think fast twitch muscles). To learn more about that stuff go HERE.  

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Quicksilver 25km Race Report

On May 12, 2012 I ran the QUICKSILVER 25 km race near San Jose in the Almaden Quicksilver State Park. This race is a small part of the well known Quicksilver 50 Mile Race which is also held on the same day. The race was well organized. There were about 100 people in the 25km.

It starts out with some steep climbs for the first couple miles on fire trails. Note that this part of the trail is pretty exposed to the sun. After those first couple miles you start to hit some downhills and then a steep long drop to the turn off onto the single track. This portion of the trail is rolling hills covered with oak trees.  This was a welcome respite from the sun especially since it was a warm day. I think by 9am it was almost 70. Being a San Francisco runner warm weather always beats me up a bit so I pulled the already drenched shirt off once we got into the shade and it remained off for most of the race. I felt a little off on this race because I had a pretty soar throat during the few days before. On race morning it was still bugging me a bit but not enough to stop me from running. Nevertheless, I never felt 100% and think I was feeling the effects of the heat a little more than usual because of this.

I rambled on through the rolling hills and popped out to another fire road. This fire road featured a steady and unwelcome climb with some additional hot spots near the ridges. There is a major cross roads of the 50 miler, 50km and 25km at the Western States Aid Station which was extremely well stocked. This was sort of a cool junction to see the other runners out there on different races. A nice lady pointed me in the right direction and I was off again more fire roads. These next few miles were the hottest of the race and it really took its toll on me. My pace dropped significantly and I just flat out didn't feel very good. I finally popped out to another aid station 1 mile from the finish. I still took some time here and filled up the bottle again and noted to put some ice in this time. I took off on the last mile which is some very steep downhill straight to the finish. I finished slower than I expected in 2:40. After reviewing the race results from prior years it seemed like the warm weather took its toll on everyone.... that mad me feel a little better :) Here's me crossing the finish line, done but stoked to be there! It should be noted that my soar throat did not survive the race... when it doubt run it out.

Monday, May 7, 2012

The Dot Com Death Run

I've been making it a point to get outta the city and hit the beautiful hilly trails that surround us in the San Francisco Bay Area. This time of year the weather is great, wild flowers are popping and the trails aren't quite so saturated with the summer crowds.

Last weekend I embarked on what I have since dubbed "The Dot Com Death Run", a 15 mile run with 4200' of elevation gain and descent.  Don't steal that name race directors! I might use it and start my own race with that one day. I picked the MONTE BELLO OPEN SPACE PRESERVE (photo above)... I was actually on my way to Portola Redwoods State Park but I saw the Monte Bello parking area and decided to check it out. I had a map of the area in my hiking book so I felt comfortable to get out there and explore. Once I parked I realized I had only brought one large bottle of water and only two 12oz Amphipod Bottles and there was nowhere to fill up on the run or in the parking lot. Shit. The last store I saw was about 30 minutes earlier. I had some salt tabs, 3 GUs and figured I would just tough it out. As you can see in the pic, there is quite a lot of exposed ridge there and it was about 75 that day. You can also see in the pic that it drops down 2000' to Stevens Creek. I took off along that ridge for a couple miles and came to a crossroads. I decided to drop down to the creek which was an extremely steep 1.5 miles. Then I hung a left at another trail intersection and ran along the creek for a few miles. At this point, I hadn't seen anyone for a while and running in completely new territory I was starting to feel kinda "out there"... especially being a dude who lives in the city :) Was I going to be able to remember the turns I made on the way back? Was a mountain lion going to try and make me dinner? All of this analysis was taxing my running and then I remembered some wise running wisdom I once heard (or read) "take what the trail offers you". This is good advice for life as well, so I carried on. 5 minutes later I ran up to the creek crossing and one of the most amazing Redwoods groves I have ever seen. I crossed Stevens Creek and ran the 2 miles and 1800 ft up to the ridge at Skyline Blvd. My water conservation was going as best it could which meant I drank most of it already.

I turned around and bombed back down through the redwoods across the creek (forcing myself not to drink any creek water... it was so cold and tempting though) and pushed back up the gently rolling creek side trail to the base of.... the death climb. I saved about 4 ounces of water to drink when I got to the top. I was parched at this point. I started up the hill into the sun trying to run every 50ft or so. Damn that hill was steep. As I was about 2/3 of the way up a turkey vulture started circling me... I yelled up to him (or her), "I'm not dead yet!" and I mustered up some energy to run another five feet :) Deep in thought on the ascent of the death climb I started thinking back to the views of Silicon Valley from the ridge above and then I started thinking of that turkey vulture thinking about how close my proximity to death looked and then it dawned on me, this run would forever be known as The Dot Com Death Run. 

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Pacific Coast Trail Runs WOODSIDE 17KM Race Report

A couple Saturday's ago (4/14/2012) I had the good fortune to run in Pacific Coast Trail Run's Woodside 17km Race. For those who do not know, Woodside is a beautiful small town located about 30 minutes south of San Francisco. It's nestled up against the Coastal Range (I think generally it's the Santa Cruz Mountains) with some horse ranches, vineyards, Redwoods and some bad-ass-hilly-windy trails.

It rained Wed to Thurs last week so the trails were a bit muddy but the weather cleared and it was a beautiful Saturday morning for the race. "PCTR" offered 10km, 17km, 35km and 50km distances. Working my way back from injury I chose the 17km and having a quick recovery I was looking forward to a faster race.

The race started at 915am which was mellow. There was a slight bottle neck as all of the runners moved from the start line on a field onto the single track. After about a half mile of pretty flat trail we started climbing... We climbed up about 10 or 11km to Skyline Boulevard. It was a challenging but not to technical climb with a lot of switch backs. Once we hit the (well-stocked) aid station at Skyline Blvd we turned around and started our descent.... This part of the race was awesome! I spent it bombing down the trail winding through the Redwoods. I made up for my slower than anticipated climb, passed some people and ended up finishing 6th place in my age group (30-39) and 19th place overall.

I noticed that most of 17Kers did not carry h2o or electrolyte drink. I carried a small 12oz bottle of Cytomax (see pic below)... i found it helped me quite a bit to push on up the hill and continue pushing on a hard downhill run. I wasn't wearing my Garmin that day but I know I was getting into mid 6 min/mile pace on the way down.

It was an excellent, fun race and I would highly recommend it to all runners. Here's me coming into the finish...

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Running Exercises and Conditioning

I don't often write posts about running advice but after coming back from an injury I have been focused on what makes my running engine run smooth. I think one of the most important things about being a successful runner (successful = healthy and running as much as possible) is to keep as versatile a training schedule as possible. Mixing up the terrain that you run on, the shoes that you wear, the time of day you run (that's a tough one!), doing cross training exercises and STRETCHING with a focus on alignment will help you grow as a runner.

The foundation consists of building up mileage slowly while simultaneously building up strength (this can translate to whatever level of running you're at). You need your whole body to be strong but strong in the right way. Building your mileage slowly while strength training a few times per week will build up your endurance muscles quickly and effectively. I find that lunges (make sure you keep your knee directly above your ankle through the whole movement and I find that reverse lunges, the ones where you step back are best to maintain focus on your quads, balance and butt muscles) are great foundation builders. I am also a firm believer in calf raises, lighter squats, pull ups (or muscle ups if you can do them), flys, slow push ups and a lot of core work... not ab work but core work: Planks (see video below) are crucial to running long distances, Toe Taps (see video below).

After you've built your foundation (never stop doing those exercises, I dedicate 2 solid days per week to strength training and throw in bits and pieces of strength training throughout the week), you can start ramping up the mileage and switching up the terrain that you run on. A serious runner, or a runner who wants to become stronger, faster and run farther should run all types of terrain: trails, track and hills. If you can stay off of concrete and/or pavement completely you'll be better off. Hills are exceptional running tools. Short workouts on hills (up and down) are great for building running strength and stamina. Same with speed work at the track.

Stretching: It is crucial to stretch everyday, even on your off/rest days. The most important stretches to do are: calf stretches, quad stretches and hamstrings. Ok, hamstrings are probably the most important of all and you should do them with a rope laying on your back. See video below. If you're having running related injuries from Plantar Fasciitis to lower back pain to calf pain to knee pain the few minutes you spend on your hamstrings per day might just fix you!

Good luck out there! Run like water flows.


Toe Taps:

Hamstring Stretches (sorry about the music and cheesy yoga style):

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Brooks Cascadia 7 Review

Best. Shoe. Ever. I have loved the Brooks Cascadia since the 4th edition. There is something about these shoes that makes them stand out. Maybe its the combination of simplicity and durability or maybe its the light weight, non-bulky-ness that allows you to be nimble on ANY type of trail. That is something a lot of trail running shoes cannot lay claim to. I have reviewed the cascadias before, here's my review of last years CASCADIA 6 REVIEW so you have idea of what the shoes were like before if you don't know...

This year Brooks brought back the classic outer-tread of earlier Cascadias... they changed it on the 6s. I was happy to see this. They also changed the center tread to a cleat style. That combo has created a very sticky feel on trails whether they are muddy or rocky. The 6s were great but not as great as the 4s and the 7s are a HUGE step up. Brooks seriously raised the bar this year. They also come equipped with a curved lacing system and meshy yet durable fabric that wraps your foot which yields a feeling of agility. Brooks kept their "pivot" point system which for turning on a dime at high speeds. And one of the best things about them, they still dry quickly after crossing a stream or stepping in a puddle.

I have thrown down some epic runs over the past few weeks in these guys and like I did on the 4s, I am already thinking about stock piling a couple pairs of these guys. Check 'em out and scoop a pair from BROOKS. or Support the Blog and use the link below!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

IRON WAR: Book Review

This is a running blog but, like myself I imagine most runners have some level of an interest in triathlons. The common element of endurance is what draws me to it, especially to IRONMAN. So when I heard about this new book coming out, IRON WAR written by Matt Fitzgerald I was excited to get my hands on a copy to review. This is the story of the legendary 1989 Ironman World Championship race between Dave Scott and Mark Allen.

The book opens up with great detail about Dave and Mark's lives from birth to familial relations to the entrance into the sport as well as great detail about the history of Ironman and triathlon. This part of the book was a bumpy ride for me. Some parts were interesting and I turned the pages quickly while other seemed to be too much info that dragged out. I enjoyed reading about their training anecdotes, individual paths into triathlon and some of the history of the sport.

The meat of the book which begins with each athletes arrival and preparation in Kona, Hawaii for the epic race is excellent and the pages started turning quickly. Matt Fitzgerald does an excellent job of bringing to life the scene and vibe in Kona during the Ironman. He connects us with all levels of participants, spectators, race officials, locals and volunteers. I have been to Kona but never during Ironman but I feel as though I have experience it (not the ironman just the race week festivities!). If you have ever been in a race you will connect with this portion of the book.

From pre-race Kona, Fitzgerald takes us into the science lab with a surprisingly great chapter, Iron Will, which is focused on exercise science. I had an "uh-oh" feeling as I moved into this chapter thinking that things were about to slow down (reading wise) again but alas they did not. Being a long distance runner, I found this chapter very interesting and enjoyed deepening my knowledge of the body and mind.

Finally, BOOM! The cannon goes off and we are racing. I couldn't put the book down from here on out. Similar to an endurance race, this book was filled with highs and lows... and similar to a great race the highs outweighed the lows. Whether you are a runner, a couch potato, a rookie to all of this racing stuff, this book will inspire you to train hard and race harder. Bravo Iron War and Matt Fitzgerald!
Here's a photo of Dave Scott and Mark Allen from that epic race...

Monday, February 13, 2012

Running Brings Inspiration

2011 was a hot and cold year for me running wise. I ran a 50 miler (my first ultra) and no other race due to injury. My blogging suffered as well and over the years I've started to notice a direct correlation between blog post frequency and running consistently. I finally enlisted the help of a physical therapist and was healed enough start running again within 3 weeks. That was about a month and a half ago. After rebuilding a mileage base I have been able to do some real running and it has felt fantastic. It feels as though my mind has been reawakened and it was plugged back into my body. I've got some new shoes and I've been taking to the trails again. More to come...