Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Race Report : North Face Endurance Challenge (#NFEC), SF 50k, Dec 6,2014

I enjoy reading race reports. And, in most race reports where the runner runs in a race with the word 'Endurance', 'Challenge' or both 'Endurance Challenge' you get to read along as the runner suffers all that makes up the endurance challenge and the usual conclusion that if you are going to attempt it you better be prepared. The North Face Endurance Challenge is no exception to this classification of race and this years race on Dec 6th, 2014 enjoyed a deluge of rain the night before promising to make the challenging course even more so. Here are my results with muddy details to follow.
  • Distance = 32.10 mi
  • Avg Pace  = 15:56 min/mi
  • Time = 8:31:39
  • Elev Gain = 5,909 ft
  • Elev Loss = 5,915 ft
  • Avg HR = 156 bpm, 84 % of Max, 3.8z
  • Max HR = 174 bpm, 94 % of Max, 5.2z

One of my favorite race reports was from Ginger Runner (#trainracebeer) after he attempted his first NFEC 50k back in 2012 and many of his observations and tips came true for us in 2014!

The 50 milers started out first 2 hours before us 50kers and were broken into waves (1-4).  By the time I started 50k/wave 4 the trail was turned up mud and later just like GingerRunner noted as a slower runner you get to encounter the elite 50 milers coming back at you on the out-and-backs in a very physical way (more on that later).

One advantage of being in wave 4 was that I was very relaxed and got to take pics before wave 1 went out at 7AM.

Below are two super runners, Sunny to the left,  who eventually finished 1st in her Age Group and 7th overall female (5:10); and Veronica on the right who finished 100 miler Rio Del Largo (RDL) in 26:17 hours Nov 7th and was running NFEC 50k as a recovery run (6:35).

Super fast, super fly runners Sunny and Veronica

50k, wave 1 start with Dean Karnazes motivating everyone on!

Start out to Bobcat Loop (modified route due to rain and closure of Muir Woods trail).

The park service has a rule that if an inch or more of rain is received then they will close the Muir Woods single-track trail - and that is exactly what happened Friday night before the race. As a result, both 50k/50m courses were modified to do an initial 5 mile loop that I will call the Bobcat loop (see diagram below). 

As soon as you round the bend from the start (about 1 mile) you are embraced by sunrise coming through thin fog layer and it is too beautiful to just run through without taking a photo.  You are still on road so you have no idea what awaits you once you get onto the fire road then trail. <sinister laughter>

The first half of the 5 mile loop from Bobcat is a gentle incline that smart runners either power walked or conserved energy the best they could lest you burn up before you even start.  Runners that were not so smart (remember we're wave 4) decided to drop as many people as they could on this 2.5 incline and I'm willing to bet paid for it dearly later.  I power walked.

Once you passed Alta AS and paid your dues by climbing 2.5 miles of incline you got to enjoy 2.5 miles of downhill....yeah!  One slight problem was all that water also decided to come down Rodeo Valley and we got the first taste of how the rest of the course was gunna be.  You wanted to open up and run like the wind but the ground was so slippery you felt that if you did you were going to eventually face plant. [At this point my shoes were still brand-new looking without a spec of mud on them and I was actively trying to find dry spots to keep them that way]

Coastal Trail

Once you got warmed up on the Bobcat Loop you slowly worked your way along nice and dry fireroad out to Coastal Trail and were stunned by gorgeous views of the ocean. [Area marked in blue below]

One of the toughest stretches of the course was coming down the slippery steps towards Muir Beach (Pirates Cove?) then up rolling mud trench back up towards Heather Cutoff.  The 'trench' was deep mud that caked on your shoes, with no shoulder to slip by on and was a suffer fest.  I don't have any pictures of the 'trench' because I was 100% focused on not falling into the mud. Too bad.  Would have been great photos.

Heather Cutoff.

You want to put the fear of God into a trail runner just mention Heather Cutoff.  Yes, a tiny little 1 mile section of switchback that folks are and will be talking about for a long time to come.  This section was a perfect storm of muddy water running down trail, elite 50m running racing down and 50k folks slowly picking their way up to make one heck of an entertaining traffic jam.  The hairpin corners were even more fun because if you were an elite and not watching your footing you went down.  If you were working your way up and got in the way of someone coming down ... well in physics momentum is conserved and someone is going off in an equal but opposite direction.

Cardiac AS

Maybe it was just me but in my mind I had mentally set the turn around at mile 16 because hey we were running a 50K/31miles and by 16 I better be turning around. Not.  After Heather Cutoff I was really looking forward to some rolling hills to work off all the mud and to recover.  Not so. There were several climbs but eventually we all made it to the Cardiac AS.  Was a great AS with porta-potties, lots of Volunteers refilling hydrapacks, lots of food - even a fountain to wash you face off in.  I spent a good 10 minutes just recovering and chit-chating with people.  But, then you saw that look like 'hey I wonder how close to the cut off I am or how far behind on my plan am I?' and you packed up, turned around and headed back down.  Yes, down back to Heather Cut off to do the muddy switchbacks in reverse!  Ugh!

Just before the switchbacks is a short section (I don't know the name) but it is dry single track amougst moss, ferns, some dense forest that is just drop-dead beautiful.  I really enjoyed this section and could have just sat down and enjoyed the smell and sounds of the forest.

Then, as you got closer, the mud started again and didn't stop.

On the way back down the mountain on the Marin side you are treated to some nice views of the bay.

The Finish - By about mile 30 I was done.  I don't mean I was sick or bored but bone dead tired and was ready for the finish and my beer.

Before - shinny new Hoka Stinsons!
After - Wet, not new nor clean Hokas

 Priorities. After I received my finishers medal I chit chated with others from Forward Motion Race Club then headed over to the beer garden to get my beer! There were four beers to choose from that I remember but I was drawn to a seasonal IPA named Celebration.  Wandered over in my wet clothes, found a chair towards the back and just sat for half hour and relaxed with a beer I so well deserved.  After my escape, I went back to get my printed shirt, changed into warm clothes in the bag check area (hey it was warm) then worked my way to the bus.

Bus Ride Back

I didn't mention the bus ride from LarkSpur Ferry Terminal parking lot because it went off perfectly. I arrived about 5AM and it left about 5:10AM for a short 30min trip to the start.

The bus ride back wasn't nearly as much fun.  First we waited more then 30 min for the right bus. [There were two busses plus the normal city bus that goes downtown SF for $2]  There was a long line for another bus, but our bus to Larkspur was relatively short.  And, we were able to get everyone in on one bus by squizing three to a seat. It was cramped, I started to get nausuous but my seat neighbors were friendly and we chatted about the race.  The ride took forever with traffic but eventually made it back to terminal parking.  The ride from Larkspur back to Pleasanton also took twice as long due to traffic around Berkeley and when I got home I had a long hot shower to wash off all the mud and my wife made ginger-chicken soup for me.  Man, that soup hit the spot.

Conclusion:  Even though I've run three 50ks and four road marathons prior to NFEC I really wasn't ready for the elevation change _and_ muddy trails.  I hydrated well with Tailwind which worked very well.  Ate more than 600 calories of real food bars (nut butters with fruit, etc).  But, the extra work of trying to keep from falling really took a toll on my energy reserves and was just tired by mile 25. I may just have to run this course again next year after much more long distance training under less than ideal conditions.


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Interview : Heli's sub three marathon PR and BQ

Runner Background

Name: Heli Carrillo (HC)
Age: 38
Location:Los Angeles
Occupation: Programmer Analyst for Kaiser Permanente

Race History
Running Since: 2004
Total # of Races: 38
# of 5k's:5
# of 10k's:7
# of 13.1's: 14
# of 26.2's: 12

Dirty Trail Shoes (DTS) first interview with a badass runner, friend and colleague, Heli.  Heli has been trying to Boston Qualify (BQ) for sometime but with his young age and gender a 3:15 is a real tough bar to reach.  His last BQ attempt was LA Marathon back in March of this year and he came in 3:35.  However, after doing more strength training, loosing 5 pounds he killed his goal time of 3:10 with a 2:58:35.  Here is how he smashed his goal.
DTS: You’re training for the Azusa REVEL Canyon City Race. Is this your 1st?

HC: Yes, its my first Azusa race.

DTS: What made you decide to do it?

HC: A friend told me about it and said it was a very fast pace course due to the downhill.

DTS: Did you follow a training plan or work with a running coach or are you just winging it?

HC: I have a running club that I joined back in July who helped me with running tips for running this race.  The tips that were helpful were tips for running a downhill race like Azusa:

1. lean forward and allow the natural force to help you run downhill.

2. Incorporate lunges and squats in my workout routing about 2 -3 times a week to help strengthen my knees for downhill running.

3. Try to get a good night rest and allow my running muscles to recover.

4. Go out and enjoy the run and try to have fun while running.

DTS: What’s your current pace?

HC: Average was 6:49 per mile.

DTS: Do you have a time goal? Most runners have 2; one that they would love to accomplish and one that they would be happy with. Or do you just wanna finish?

HC: My time goal was 3:10 since that is my Boston qualifying time for my age group.

DTS: Are you running this marathon alone?

HC: I ran the marathon with other friends but we each have our own pace.

DTS: Do you belong to a running group?

HC: Yes, I am running with USA Marathon Training on Saturday mornings.

DTS: Marathon training requires a lot of time and dedication. Did you have to make sacrifices? How did you handle that?

HC: Yes I did spend lots of early mornings getting my training runs done.

DTS: What was the best thing about training for this marathon?

HC: I really enjoyed running in different places durring my training as per recommendations from other fellow runners.

DTS: What was the worst thing about training for this marathon?

HC: I feel that I lost a lot of sleep due to late night commitments and having to get up early.

DTS: Any crazy training or running stories?

HC: My longest training run of 21 miles took me about 3 hours to complete due to the constant water stops I did.

DTS: Have you experienced any injuries during training?

HC: I had very minimal injuries but I did get some blisters from trying out different running sock

DTS: You trained for this race during the summer. How was that versus the current cooler temps? Which is harder?

HC: It felt about the same for me since most of my runs were done in the early mornings.

DTS: Did you train solo or with friends? Which do you prefer?

HC: During the week I trained with some friends but in the weekends I ran with my running club.

DTS: What has this experience taught you about yourself?

HC: That we can do anything that we set in our minds to do.

DTS: Longest Training Run to Date?

HC:  I had a 21 mile training run that was done partly on the road and partly on a trail.

DTS: How many miles did you typically run in a week? And what was the most miles done in a single week?

HC: I averaged between 35 to 45 miles a week.

DTS: Current Training Shoe?

HC: Brooks GTS14

DTS: Is there anything you feel you need to work on?

HC: I can work on pacing myself so that I can have a strong finish.

DTS: Got any Advice/Tips about marathon training you wanna share?

HC: Running alone is great but including body weight exercises like squats, lunges and core exercises are a plus to helping one achieve their goal.

DTS: What is your fluid and fuel strategy for running a fast marathon?

HC: I began to drink fluids at the first water station but since it was a cool day I started with small amounts like a fourth cup of water if that. Every other water station I will take the GaterAid/PowerAid for the electrolytes. I had a bowl of oatmeal before the race began then I had an energy gel every 6 miles into the race. At about mile 20 I had a energy gel with 1 shot of caffeine to help with the last 6.2 miles.

DTS: You ran a 3:34:31 at the LA Marathon in March of this year. How did you go from a 3:34 to sub3? Are you going to bottle and sell your secret?

HC: I feel that I trained a little harder and included the body weight exercises that I mentioned above. It also helped that Azusa Revel race was a fast pace downhill race which gives the advantage of getting a better time. Oh, and I also lost 5 pounds between LA marathon and Azusa Revel which allowed me to run a lighter and faster.

DTS: Congratulations on your BQ and PR run!


Monday, November 17, 2014

Race Report : ITR Mt Tam Half Marathon, Nov 15, 2014

Before you remind me...I know I said I would never run Dipsea again and this year I sorta did.  However, Inside Trail Racing's 'Mt Tam' race isn't the entire Dipsea down to Mill Valley just the Stinson Beach side.  So, I only half lied!

This particular half marathon is by far the most scenic, most lush, challenging and fun I've run to-date. Period.  I had so much fun on this run that I think I'll just run this next year instead of Dipsea/Double Dipsea for the following reasons:
  • Registration was $45 for the Half Marathon
  • Half, 30k, 50k to choose from
  • Weather was cloudy with temperature range from 45-65; low 50's on course
  • Course limited to just 400 (as opposed to the 2000 that get crammed on Dipsea).
  • Lush course across babbling brooks, redwood trees, lichen/moss and Ferns
  • Challenging workout over rocks, exposed roots, steps and one vertical ladder.
  • Lots of volunteers at well stocked AS 
  • Fast finish
 I took several shots before the 30/50K went out at 8:30AM but didn't realize my iphone was down to 1% battery and didn't have enough time to charge; so, no on-course pictures!! Ugh!

Matt going out on his 50k adventure

 The half marathon has more than 3000 ft over vertical and runs the Stinson side of Dipsea and Muir woods.  You go out on yellow ribbons, left on orange loop, then back on Yellow return.  I never thought I was lost and there were even stripped ribbons for important and/or sharp turns.  And Tim marked the wrong paths in blue ribbons.  I remember one AS that you hit twice.  For those of us that used hyropacks that was more than fine.  If you ran with a handheld that might have been a bit tight.

Elevation Gain: 3,458 ft
Elevation Loss: 3,441 ft
Min Elevation: 26 ft
Max Elevation: 1,493 ft

 I wish I could have taken some pictures or had better command of English to describe the beautiful canopied single track we had the pleasure of running through.  The brooks were actually babbling and the smell a mixture of salted air and forest.  The floor was covered with needles, etc but those running in minimalist shoes were having a tough time with all of the small stones.  The air was crisp and cool with a slight breeze.  I couldn't image better running conditions.

After you crest a tiny hill at 11 miles you run down towards the finish - a fine feeling.  After passing the finish line the finishers table/beer was right there.  Parking was a bit off but a nice cool down to change clothes, walk along the beach then back to the finish area to welcome others back.

This was the best half marathon I've ever run and plan to be back next year.


Monday, November 10, 2014

Race Report : Berkeley Half Marathon : 2nd year New Course!

Last years (2013) Berkeley Half Marathon (HM) course was a point to point race where you either had to wait for a bus ride back or just walk it.  There were many complaints including:
  • the long wait for bus line back
  • how the half and 5K runners/walkers weaved between each other
  • residential area switch-backs for no reason
  • course didn't take in enough Berkeley high-lights: no Bears, no college spirit, no blue and gold!
  • the big hill which proceeded the finish

I though the race was fine and really enjoyed the beer garden at the finish - then again I normally do.
To the Race Director (RD) credit they listened and we had an even better course this year.

  • loop course that started and finished at park near parking and places to eat
  • 5k and half marathoners started at different times and finished different places
  • fewer residential switch-backs
  • several bands, golden bears and decent crowd support
  • much better course including Shattuck Ave, campus and some hills
  • no hill at finish
Like last year I bought a parking ticket online at GoPark and parked at same parking garage near the start as last year. We had roughly 5000 runners in 2013 and I was expecting more this year after the course change so I arrived ridiculously early (6:30AM).  The HM started at 8AM (actually wave 3 at 8:10AM).  I knew going in that I was not going to PR and not run faster than last years 1:54 cuz I just finished the Morgan Hill Marathon the prior week and wanted to concentrate on supporting Michelle's very first half marathon (more on that later).

Attire for this years race - no I only used two not four Hammer Gels.
 I had plenty of parking places to choose from so parked on second floor, had my pick of about 50 porta-potties, then did other chores like pick up my tech shirts cuz I elected for bib mail then my drop bag at the high school gym.  Still at 7AM there were only a handful of people milling around.  At the gym I ran into two Kaiser Permanente colleagues (Senthil and Derrek) and the incredible Sam Louie!

Fellow KP employee and three time SF Golden Gate Park HM finisher, Senthil

Fellow KP colleague, Derrek, Double Dipsea survivor and KP SF GG HM finisher

The one and only Sam Louie volunteering as his foot heals.
At 7:00AM as pictured below you wouldn't know a race was going to start in an hour it was soo quiet.  By 7:45AM we entered Wave 3 corral and it was getting crowded. 

Final shot minutes before we started out.  There were four in our party including myself, Michelle, Duo and Yan.  All three were running their first half marathon that morning and you could feel the excitement.  Michelle and Yan grew up together, actually attended the same elementary school and hadn't seen each other for ~30 years.  And, both were runners.  Both specialized more in the shorter distances and weren't sure what pace to set for a half marathon.  We eventually decided on the 2 hour pace group; although Michelle said she'd like to finish in 2:30 (Yan sub two).

We started out together and paced ahead of the 2 hr pacer at about 8:30 min/mile.  I felt pretty good after last weekend's marathon but new I couldn't/shouldn't go faster.  At about mile 4 Michelle dropped us like a bad cold and sped up.  That was also after about the last little hill.  One neat artifact of the course is that at about mile 8 you reach a two way stretch were you see the faster runners coming back at you.  When I entered this area I saw was the 1:35 group exiting.  Eventually I saw Michelle ahead of the 1:55, with Yan a couple minutes behind.  At the turn around I ran into Duo and after saying 'Hi' she sped off.

Michelle ended up passing the 1:55 group and finished with a 1:51 (Yan with 1:55, Duo with 2:04 and me with 2:07).

A race isn't a race unless there is beer to celebrate each others victory.  Pyramid Alehouse delivered and the IPA was rich, aromatic and really hit the spot.  [Admittedly the coconut water was also good at the finish line especially paired with a bagel]

From a bling point of view, the medals were nice and if you finished the San Francisco Marathon you received a 'challenge' medal.

The course was an interesting mix of areas.  Morning temperature was a cool ~50 and maybe it warmed up to ~68 by 10AM.  Was a great day for a race and the new course was much better than last years.

My Garmin 310xt reported an elevation gain of 485 ft. I remember two hills and an over pass.

Elevation Gain: 485 ft
Elevation Loss: 490 ft
Min Elevation: 0 ft
Max Elevation: 377 ft