108 Years…

I met baseball in 1970 in a suburb of Chicago, Glen Ellen, and I immediately fell in love. My dad bought me my first glove and taught me to throw. I spent countless hours throwing tennis balls against the back wall of our house, playing every out of a full game, sometimes in extra innings, that the Cubs always won in the last of the last, with 2 outs. My best friend, Shawn, and I played baseball for hours in the corner lot. When the other kids went home, we would keep playing. We could play all positions at once and we always imagined ourselves at Wrigley. Shawn was more of a White Sox fan, but I’ll forgive him that error in judgement.

I spent some amazing summer afternoons at Wrigley Field. The smell of popcorn, hotdogs, fresh cut grass, and infield dirt still brings back memories of those days. When I couldn’t be there, I was in front of the TV at 1:15, WGN, Channel 9. The ivy on the brick always felt like home, and I guess it still does.

I saw Ernie Banks play his last game. I watched Billy Williams rob some poor slugger of a homerun long before Steve Bartman was around to get in the way. Joe Pepitone played first base with an effortlessness that I’m sure made him the coolest guy on the planet. Jose Cardinal stole more bases than anyone and made it look easy. Every year was the Cubs’ year and every October we all talked about next year.

The curse seemed real to us as kids, probably as real as it did the the old timers whose traditions of “We’ll get em next year” we carried on.
I learned to love the game and to hate it’s fickleness from the Cubs. I learned to do the figure 4 pop-up slide from the Cubs. It’s rare to see now, but a Cub did it in the Series this year and I knew we had it when I saw it. Something about seeing him fold his right leg under his left, sliding more on his shin than his backside, and come up as his lead foot hit second, brought back all of my childhood hopes and dreams.

The 2016 World Series had all the drama that a championship should have. Cubs drop the first, but take the second in Cleveland. A split is all you need when you’re on the road. Back to Wrigley and lose two. That wasn’t supposed to happen, but we took it back to Cleveland and had to win 2 games, one at a time. When you get to Game 7, anything can happen and it did. Leading off with a home run set the tone, and the 3 run lead was just getting comfortable when the Indians rallied in the 8th to tie. Had the game ended differently, there might have been a lot of speculation and second guessing about the pitching change in the 8th with 1 on and 2 out, but Allen was losing velocity and Chapman is an incredible closer, even on no rest… or not. Extra innings AND a rain delay just add to the suspense. The Cubs regroup in the clubhouse and come out to one last rally. Zobrist, Monterey, and Montgomery are names that will live forever now as themselves tha helped the Cubs break the curse.

As a kid, playing baseball was all I ever wanted to do. Watching the Cubs came in a close second. When I moved to California, I started routing for the Giants, and I still do, but the Cubs will always be my first love. I left behind my desire to play, but never my love of the game. I started by playing catch with my day (I still have the glove he bought to play catch with me), and played Little League, but never made the All Star Team. I think about these guys from time to time,especially during baseball season. I wonder if any of them kept playing as we got older. The toe-head kid in the front is Blake Hull, he went on to play hockey, like his father Bobby and his brother Brett. I wonder if the coaches’ kids, Jimmy Higgins, Gary Pritchard, and John Schroeder watched the series. I wonder if they ever knew how much I admired how easily the game I loved seemed to be for them.

I wonder if my old best friend, Shawn Rafferty, thinks back on the countless hours we spent playing baseball in any weather. Every 7th inning stretch I sing along with Shawn again “Take Me Out To The Ballgame,” but my favorite time in my childhood was playing with just Shawn and I, in a torrential downpour, singing “It’s A Beautiful Day For A Ball Game” at the top of our lungs.
Truth be told, I don’t really believe in superstition or in curses, except when it comes to baseball. I have to believe that Ernie Banks (Mr. Cub) and Harry “Holy Cow” Caray were watching this series, maybe with a goat named Murphy. 


Early Morning, April 4

AR50readyArmed with all I have learned from the previous year and since, I feel as prepared as I could be for this years American River 50 Mile Endurance Run. Although I had battled Plantar Fasciitis and Achilles Tendonitis, I am feeling pretty good on this cold morning and ready to run.

Last year, I arrived late and had to park 2 miles from the start, barely making it back in time to start running. This year, I park at the finish and take the bus to the start line. I meet up with my buddy, Edd, and sit in his truck to keep warm. We early morning eclipsewatch the lunar eclipse and wait for the race to start. All checked in and ready to go, it is comforting to have time to relax before running.

I am fresh off a PR (although just barely) at the Way To Cool 50k and I had run the first and second half of this course to help me plan my strategy and coordinate with my crew. My main objective is to run more consistently. If my Strava graph is close to a flat line, I will consider this a success. My hope is to break 12 hours for the 50 miles. Those familiar with this race know that does not mean two 6 hour marathons. My plan is to finish the first half in about 5:30, leaving me 6:30 for the back half of the run.
selfieStrack As usual, I start out a little fast, but settle into a comfortable pace and enjoy the easier part of the run. I catch up to my friends, the Stracks, and sneak this selfie on the levee. Then it is onto the road and under the Johnny Cash bridge.

No more pictures though. My intent is to run comfortably, move through JohnnyCashBridgeaid stations, stay hydrated, and fuel smart. I opt for my Orange Mud Dual Quiver, rather than a hydration pack, because it is easier to fill and the two bottles allow me to carry water and electrolytes. I carry some Gu and some chews with me, but I am able to use what is available at the aid stations without slowing down. Peanut butter sandwiches, oranges, salt tablets, refill the bottles and keep moving.

Still feeling good at mile 10, I cross the footbridge and ARwalking bridgemake my way around Lake Natoma. I am wearing my old Hoka Mafate 2s and almost wishing I hadn’t because they are a little small and this part of the race has some downhill stretches that I can feel in my toes. Last year I ran the entire race in these shoes and I ended up losing two and a half toe nails.

The weather is about perfect. Cold enough at the start to wear a couple of layers and running tights, but not so cold that I am uncomfortable. I find myself running near Edd, who I know is considerably faster than me and feeling like I could run with him all day.

I am wrong! We hit the dirt and our first climb and back down and we are still together at the aid station at mile 17, but he leaves ahead of me and I will not see him again until the finish.

Up onto the bluffs, back onto the paved bike trail and into the best aid station ever (FTR at Negro Bar) I still feel good and still move through quickly. It’s all pavement from here to Beals Point and the half-way point of the run. Here I get to pick up my pacer, Stephanie and I indulge myself a longer rest. I change clothes for the, now, warmer weather, put on fresh socks, and my newer, slightly larger, Hoka Mafate 3s, and switch from my watch to the Strava app on my iPhone (since my Garmin has a 10 hour battery).

Completing the first half in under 5:30 (by 8 minutes), I feel in pretty good shape to reach my 12 hour goal. Looking back at the first half Strava graph later, it looks about perfect. The line is nearly flat at just over 13 minutes/mile and I still feel pretty fresh, but the technical and the steeper part of the course await me and, as I tire, consistency will desert me.

Although the terrain is not really steep, it is never flat and I find myself spending more time at aid stations. The Meat Grinder eats me up with it’s technical rolling hills and I see my pace slow more than I want it to at this point. Stephanie keeps me moving, however, in spite of this stretch having one less aid station from last year. I run out of water and am really dragging by the time I reach the Rattlesnake Bar aid station. This is where I am to meet Matt to pace me the last 10 miles, but he had a family event to go to and I learn he has switched out with my long-time running partner Dave who will push me to the finish. This is a welcome surprise, since this is the guy that got me started in all this ultra running to begin with.

I spend too much time at that aid station, but I get out and back on the trail, knowing that my 12 hour dream is out of reach, I set my sights on breaking 13 hours, which is still a half-hour improvement over last year.

I almost bonk at mile 46, a result of running out of water 6 miles earlier and the fact that AR50finishmy long runs have not been supported enough by weekday runs. With Dave’s help, I pull it back together and then hit the steepest part of the course. Mile 48 is another slow mile, but I push hard through mile 49 and sprint (sort of) to the finish. I felt someone trying to catch me coming in the chute, but I can’t let happen now, so I give it all I have left to cross the finish.

My second 50 mile race in the books at 12:57.

I plan to skip this race next year. I’m sure Ill find something else to run, but I want to return the favor and pace Dave for the same race.

Truth be told, I gave it all I had and I don’t know if I could run it any faster, but maybe…

I AM Steve Avilla! (and How I PR’d Without Getting Faster)

stevebibIt was an honor to be one of many running for my good friend Steve Avilla at this year’s Way Too Cool. I had many opportunities to talk to runners along the way who were also wearing his bib, but did not know him. I would ask how they knew Steve and they would respond that they didn’t, but they were happy to join in supporting him and his family/ I would tell them that I knew him and that I had often run with him and take the moment to tell them what a great guy he was. I love the way the trail running community supports one another, encourages each other, and comes together for and with each other.

WTCvillage

 

Way Too Cool is a combination of many of my favorite trails and a race I look forward to every year for 3 years now. I DNF’d my first year and finished last year (my second 50K distance) and, although I have struggled with injury and training schedules for the past year, I set my sights on a PR.

For a back-of-the-packer, like me, and being in my 50’s now, PR’s are getting harder to come by and injuries take longer to heal. I am hoping to keep up with Steve’s actual bib, which is running relay style to complete the race he loved. That would mean a PR by over an hour and, although I doubt my ability to do that, the math seems to work out and I can see that it might be possible.

I have a plan: My good friend and running mentor (I have a lot of runners I look up to and consider mentors), Sean Ranney, offered to help me prepare for this race (and AR50, coming up) and I was happy to accept. I have a plan, but that doesn’t mean I follow it very well. Still, having a plan helps me in several ways. Even though I am not following the plan very well, I am aware of where I am. I know what I am lacking and my workouts have more purpose than they would otherwise. I include some tempo runs, some intervals, and some specific hill work. I am well short of my great plan that my coach gave me, but I am still far ahead of where I would be without a plan.

Pre-race nutrition: I try to eat healthy(ish) most of the time anyway, but I have been focusing on less sugar and less fat, unless I crave it. I find that most of my cravings come from my body actually needing something. It’s not that way for everyone, nor for me all the time, but once I learned to pay attention to my body, I find I can tell the difference between a nutrition need and a waste of calories. I usually do the traditional carb-load thing the night before the race, but this time I hit the carbs all week. I try to get more sleep and make sure I am at the race earlier than usual.

Turn pace-breakers into pace-makers:

1) Run more, walk less. Seems obvious, but in an ultra, you walk. I try to do it less. Even a slow shuffle maintains better momentum than a walk.

2) Walk strong. Like I said, I’m going to walk some. I avoid putting my hands on my hips. I swing my arms almost as if I am running, but always in an exaggerated fashion.

3) Run up. Short inclines I run up… faster. I can increase my pace for a few steps. The top of longer hills that I walk, I run the last few steps. This gives me momentum as I crest the hill and leads me into the flat or down.

4) Glide down. I let gravity do the work. I run as fast as I can down hill without breaking form. This carries me into the flats and I maintain a faster pace for longer.

5) Don’t stop! This is the biggest one for me. I walk through aid stations. I keep moving when I am tired. Nothing kills a pace like not moving.

My strategywith the frog for the race is to keep moving. Starting with friends and trying to maintain an even pace (not too fast, not too slow) for the 8 mile Olmstead Loop, I’m feeling really good. I know I’m going to need my traditional porta-potty stop at some point and I’m hoping to make it 8 miles (I didn’t, but trees are as good as porta-potties if you come prepared). This is something that always kills my pace, so I try to be ahead of pace a little.

This is my favorite trail and I am looking secrettrailforward to crossing Knickerbocker and the Secret Trail. Many faster runners refer to this as the “conga line” because of the single track so early in the race that gets pretty crowded. This year, I find myself in the line running a pace just slightly faster than I am comfortable, but not out of reach. This pushes me to hold my pace better and I get back to the firehouse averaging under 11 minutes per mile.

A cute kid helping at the aid station hands me a Gu and I take it, along with some electrolytes, salt, and some coke. I fill up my water and move through. I do not stop for more than a minute at any aid stations (they are aid stations, not rest AmCanyon creekstops) and this probably makes the biggest difference in my finish time. At the next aid station, I catch my friends with Steve’s bib and run with them for a while. I hope to carry the bib for a few miles.

I always seem to make one big mistake and here it is: the second fruit flavored Gu. They always make me sick, but the one the kid gave me seemed OK and so I took a second one. Within a mile I was sick! I was hoping to throw up and get it out of my system, but it kept passing and then reoccurring for the next several miles. alt trailWhen I stagger into the Alt aid station I go back to real food (peanut butter sandwich, fruit, potatoes) and immediately start to feel better. I am now considerably behind my friends, and my planned pace, from being sick on a relatively easy part of the coarse. On to Goat Hill.

possible

My time has greatly suffered from being sick, but I am feeling better now and determined to get back on pace. I climb Goat Hill and find the day has gotten much hotter out in the sun. I refuel (soup and fruit, no GU) and fill up my water and head out. Doing the math in my head, I realize that I cannot catch my friends. I am not going to get the time I am hoping for, but I might still be able to beat last years’ time. Keep moving!

Coming down from Goat Hill and to the last aid,canyon trees I am wondering if I can make last years time or not. It’s beginning to seem unlikely. There is a 1.5 mile climb that seems steeper now that I have run 28 miles. Cresting it, I am catching a few of the runners that passed me while I was feeling sick and I check my watch when I reach the last half mile sign. I am next to another runner now and I might, typically, just run it in with her, but I see that I am close to my time from last yearmust do and really want to beat that. So, I apologize and tell her that I’m really close to a PR and push hard the last half mile. I come in about 1:30 faster than last year. I was hoping to take an hour off of my time, but I’ll take a minute.

Truth be told, I really just wanted to give Steve my best race and I did that.

Steve eagleWTCfinish

Best DNF Ever!

Starting out in the early morning fog in Cool, CA, I was cold, but comfortable.Fourmidable  - 4Fourmidable  - 6 This is my first time running Fourmidable, although I volunteered to sweep an 8 mile section last year, and I am curious to see if my Achilles is healed enough to handle the tough 50k course, consisting of four major climbs.

The course winds its way over some of my favorite trails, and some I have never run before.  First finding its way down to No Hands bridge and across towards Auburn. My favorite part of running local races is seeing familiar faces at the aid stations. There is no disappointment today, as I think I know everyone out there. After the first aid and a porta potty pit stop, I’m off across No Hands and on towards Auburn. I have comfortably settled to the back of the pack and maintaining my planned easy pace. The field is small and filled with fast runners, so it doesn’t bother me at all to be running with some good friends.

Fourmidable  - 10

 

 

On familiar trail and cruising along the rollers along the river, we take time to enjoy the scenery and take plenty of pictures. We pick up a little altitude and turn onto another trail I had not seen before and enjoy spectacular views.

Fourmidable  - 28

 

Fourmidable  - 11

 

Fourmidable  - 20

 

 

The first climb to the Overlook is a rude awakening to what our illustrious race director has in store.

fourmidThis is one of those trails I have never run before and I wasn’t quite ready for it when I came around the corner. Arriving at the ADO aid station to more familiar faces, I was ready for the long downhill to the base of Cardiac.

Then it is back up again, on one of the toughest climbs in the area, but that is what I’m here for.fourmidable -

 

 

 

At the top of Cardiac, I realize that, although I am on pace for my planned race time, I am going to be getting home later than I had hoped, and I had plans for the evening, so I pick up the pace along the aqueduct trail and back to the ADO aid station. From there it is back to NoFourmidable  - 36 Hands bridge and up the infamous K2 Training Hill. Outside of some climbs that I have done in the midst of semi- or non-supported races like Euchre Bar Massacre and Meow Marathons, this is the toughest hill I have ever climbed. For me, it’s only purpose is to make other hills (like Way Too Cool’s Goat Hill) seem more doable by comparison.

Cresting K2, and starting the descent towards Knickerbocker, I determine that I am not going to make it home in time if I complete this race. I usually leave race days clear of anything welse, but this was out of my control. Fourmidable  - 3So, at mile 21, I make the choice to take a left where the course goes right and find my way back to the Cool firehouse. Approaching the finish from the wrong direction, several friends ask me if I’m ok. Actually, I feel better than I have in months. I wanted to see if I could handle the hill. I wanted to know if I could maintain a pace. I needed to see if my Achilles and plantar fasciitia would hold up.

Truth be told, sometimes when you win, you lose; sometimes when you lose, you win; and sometimes you can learn all you need to learn without finishing the race. It’s taken me two weeks to get around to writing this, so I’ll be back at the Cool firehouse tomorrow morning. I’ll be running my best. I’ll be running for my friend Steve… But that’s next week’s blog.

Recovering with supplements

As some of you may know, I have suffered from an unfortunate string of injuries over the past couple of years. Starting with a  badly bruised knee cap, which led to over-training to compensate for lost time. This, combined with a moderate sprained ankle, resulted in plantar fasciitis and compensating from that caused Achilles Tendonosis in the opposite ankle. I have tried everything I could think of and taken advice from a lot of different people (including other runners, doctors, massage therapists, etc.) to speed the healing and recovery. I’ve changed shoes, changed inserts, and added inserts to my daily shoes. I’ve learned a lot from my research and the advice others have given me, so I’m hoping some of you will benefit from my learning.

runwithstout

First, there are many things I could have done to avoid the injuries in the first place. Like not rushing to train when I had missed training time, thus over-training. Stopping when I got hurt. Stretching better. An acute injury, like a sprain, or a bone bruise, will heal in its own time. On the other hand, fatigue injuries can be avoided. Once injured, however, recovery and avoiding further injury become the focus.

I am not a doctor, nor a physical therapist. What I am is a runner who has experienced injury and learned what helps the recovery process and what does not.

Total rest does not help Achilles injuries nor Plantar Fasciitis. To heal, these tendons need increased blood flow. Stretch, massage (Trigger Point worked well for me), and mild running. I was very tight each time I first started running, but it would loosen up as I warmed up. I stayed off of pavement and stopped if the pain started coming back. Shorter and less frequent runs seemed to help more than taking an absolute break. I also found that a good sports massage therapist can really work the right muscles and ligaments. The pain experienced during really deep massage gives great relief over time.

After about a year, a friend mine suggested some supplements that might help. Although the FDA does not back these claims, there is a lot of significant research that indicates some supplements aid in healing joints, muscles, ligaments, and tendons. My friend happens to be a representative for Young Living Essential Oils. The company offers massage oils and supplements to aid in general health and 3234well-being. The combination she suggested is specifically designed for bones, ligaments, and muscles (BLM). I decided to give it a try.

The suggested dosage for my weight is 1 tablet 4 times daily. A 90 count bottle costs $53.62, retail, and will last me about 3 weeks. There is an option to open a wholesale account and purchase it at 24% discount ($40.75). More information here. You do not have to sell anything in order to remain a member and receive the wholesale pricing. The included information claims that results will start being evident in 4-6 weeks, so I obtained two bottles and started taking the suggested dosage in addition to my regular supplements. I also continued my running in moderation, as well as stretching, trigger point massage, and foam rolling my calves.

I am not one to follow blindly in most cases, so I did some research outside of the Young Living website, into the ingredients and what they claim to do. Here it is:

Manganese Sulfate – believed to aid in bone and blood health
Glucosamine – for healthy joints, tendons, and ligaments (I give this to my dogs for the same reason)
Callogen – promotes cell growth
MSM – reduces swelling and pain
Balsam Fir Oil – aids in relaxation (I can find no research supporting the ingesting of this)
Wintergreen – pain relief, in particular nerve pain
Clove – reduce inflammation and pain

My Results

After 3 weeks, I had not noticed any significant change. I started the second bottle and at the end of the 4th week I started to notice that I was not waking up with the pain and stiffness I had previously experienced. My recovery after a run took less time and I did not have as much pain during the run. I still feel some mild discomfort, especially when I run on pavement. The most discomfort is during the first mile or two of my run, but then it subsides and only mildly returns when I stop running. This continued to improve for the remainder of the second bottle.

I did not notice any side effects, although my frequency of burping greatly increased and there is a strong influence from the cloves and wintergreen.

I’m not going to claim that the supplements healed me, but I’ve been out of them for about two weeks now and I have noticed an increase in morning stiffness in my ankle again. It certainly appears that the BLM supplements have been a significant part  of my healing process.

Truth be told, it is important to realize that these injuries happen over a period of time and healing usually takes time as well. Be patient. Take care of yourself. Staying healthy is easier than recovering.

Back Of The Pack Frustration

I still love to run! Races, on the other hand, are starting to frustrate me.

The back of the pack is filled with a different type of runner. The back of the pack crowd FullSizeRenderoften sign up for a race without training. They trot along having conversations with the people around them. They don’t worry about form. Often you can hear them slapping their feet onto the ground like they are wearing wet flippers. They hold their phones in their hands so they can listen to their music without headphones. Occasionally, they will take a phone call and have a conversation during the race.

When I first started running a few years ago, I was in this group and I hated being beat by people who obviously had poor running form and little or no conditioning. Yet, there they were, some of them, faster than me. I knew that the only way to avoid their distracting conversations, music, and foot flapping, was to train harder and get faster and stronger.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not going to win anything and if you are one of those conversating, foot flapping, music sharing runners, good for you! I’m glad you are out there having fun and enjoying this great sport. I’d just like to run with those that take the running part a little more seriously, at least during the race, but I’m just too slow.

But here I am, back with the back of the packers, running slower than I was last year, even after my initial injury. I have gone right past slowing down from injury, to slowing down from lack of training. My lack of training is now hurting me more than my injury.

IMG_1440I ran the Folsom Blues Breakout half marathon last Saturday. My time was 28 minutes slower than it was last year. My Achilles was a little sore, but my quads were burning the last 2 miles and I had to slow to a walk a couple of time just because I was out of breath. I’m carrying almost 20 pounds more than last year, which doesn’t help. My Plantar Fasciitis is better, but my Achilles hurts, especially when I run on pavement.

I still love the run, the people I run with (or behind), the beer after (if there’s any left), and IMG_1444the swag. A few years ago I couldn’t imaging running a marathon. Now I’ve completed a couple and two 50ks and a 50 miler. I just can’t imagine not doing more of that.

Truth be told, I have to find or create time to train, and I have to heal completely, so I can move back up in the pack. I’d like to be able to keep up with some of my friends, and get away from the back of the pack.

Form Focus, aka: Starting Over

midridgepanIt really feels like I’m starting over from the beginning. I try not to care about pace, but when I am falling further behind those I used to run with, it’s really difficult to not care. I have three choices at this point; run with slower runners, run faster, enjoy the solitude. I’m trying to do the latter, but I’m doing some of the first as well.

I have made a few mistakes in my recuperation, but I think I’ve done some things right too. First thing I did wrong was my resting strategy. For plantar fasciitis, complete rest is a bad idea. The muscles will heal tighter and cause other injuries later when running is resumed. THAT explains the Achilles problems! I should have used more massage and continued running shorter distances. What I did was to rest during the week and continue the long runs on the weekends. I should have reversed that.

I’ve tried rotating my shoes. This was not a completely bad idea, but the Mafates (Hoka), with their additional cushioning, provide a much more comfortable ride and less Achilles pain. Playing soccer in Luna sandals was a bad idea (two broken toes). Shorter runs in the Cascadias (Brooks) are ok, but the Mix Master Move (Merrell) and Lunas are too flat and do not provide enough cushioning. The Mix Master actually has the same drop as the Mafate, but the cushion difference is significant. When I am completely healed, I hope to run more in the Lunas and the Merrels, but running without pain is more important.

Meanwhile… focusing on chi running and improving my form. I have found that it quickly becomes more natural to me. I have developed a habit of rotating my focus. Mid-foot strike/ lean, posture, breathing, cadence… repeat. I find that my lean determines my speed with much less effort than trying to move my feet faster. I try to keep a steady cadence and adjust speed with lean. I’m not very good at it yet, I forget to lean and my pace is slow. As I improve, my cadence will increase slightly and my lean will improve. My next race is a 10 mile trail run that I’ve run before, so it will be a good test of my progress.

Mental recovery is more difficult. Over training was my nemesis last year. I am not going to be able to return to old form and condition by forcing myself to run further or more often. It will only cause me to prolong my recovery or injure myself in other ways.

belarun

always happy to run

midridgetrail

kids on mid ridge

So I run short runs with slower runners… these slower runners. They won’t be slower for long, but I love running with them.  the conversations usually go like this:

“Sean, do you want to go run?”

Gabriela: “I do, I do!”

Georgia all smiles at the Twilight Run

Georgia all smiles at the Twilight Run

Sean: “I guess. How far?”

Me: “Not too far. Georgia, do you want to go?”

Georgia: “No.”

Me: “Well, you’re going any way.”

And we go. And they love it. Although Georgia will never admit it.

These runs are shorter and there is no pressure to keep any given pace. It gives me an opportunity to spend time with my kids and focus just on form and breathing.

I still love running with my friends, even though I can’t keep up for very long. I am finding sly1trackthat I can maintain pace a little longer now and I don’t get as far behind as I was a couple of months ago. The key, mentally, is to not let it bother me that I am running behind.

Single track running through the trees with no one but God is the ultimate in trail running. Sometimes I have music, but other times I enjoy the solitude and the quiet.

I can work more on cadence and lean on these runs. Sometimes I get so into the running that find myself on unfamiliar trail (read: “lost”), but I have found my way back… eventually.

For any of my readers who have been with me for a while, you may remember my post from the beginning of the year (For The Love). I am re-finding the joy of running in these moments.

jenklakepanTruth be told, sometimes its best to slow down and look around; enjoy the moment, enjoy the view. Speed may or may not return. My faster friends don’t seem to mind that I can’t keep up and I still get to the end in time for watermelon and beer… that’s why we run anyway.

Learning to run… again

When I was in high school, my track coach told me that I had one of the most natural strides for a miler he had ever seen. As a sophomore, I was told that I was expected to be in the state meet as a senior. Unfortunately, my lack of dedication and subsequent deficient work ethic got in the way and my high school track career was not what it might have been.

Years later I had been in and out of running, but each time I started running again I found a natural, comfortable stride came back to me.

Then I got hurt. A seriously bruised knee, from a fall. A sprained ankle. Plantar fasciitis. Everything changed. My stride became one of compensating and over-compensating… favoring and avoiding.

I spent most of the last year trying to recover without stopping running. Over analyzing my stride. Trying to rest during the week and go on long runs on the weekend. Trying to keep up my rigorous race schedule.

I saw my times increasing. My recovery took longer. I started to feel less and less interested in running, but not running was worse.

It was time to do something different!

I started reading. I started studying the way others run and paying attention to the way I run.

The first book I read (recommended by my friend Matt), was Quiet the Noise, The Trail Runner’s Guide To Finding God. Rami Odeh shares his personal journeyquietNoise with us as he discovers a closer relationship with God by spending his time in God’s creation appreciating and communing with Him. I realized that my joy of running was waning because I was paying too much attention to what was wrong and not enjoying the run for the run’s sake. I wrote more about this as I finished that book in Oh For The Love.

born2runAs I was getting ready for AR50, I started reading Born To Run. To me, the theme of this story is the escape from the commercialization of our sport. It is about running because we love to run. I got just enough of this before AR50 to really enjoy that race, even though I was slower than my target pace. Reading about Caballo Blanco, Barefoot Ted and Luis Escobar and the Tarahumara Indians in Copper Canyon, Mexico, I was captivated. Next year I WILL run the Born To Run Ultra in Los Olivos and the Caballo Blanco Ultra in Copper Canyon is on my bucket list (all it takes is money). The connection with this book is very strong for me because it starts with the same question I have: “Why does my foot hurt?”

Finally, it was time for what I knew was coming since last September… STOP running! I needed a break! I needed to heal. I needed to rest and refocus. This was a good time tochiRunning do it. No big races coming up and a good break until Blood Sweat and Beers at the end of July. I started reading Chi Running. I started thinking about this several months prior and I bought the book for my iPad, but I wanted to read Born To Run first. I’m glad I did because it set me up for Chi Running as the next step. I started doing a little bit of Tai Chi and then, after a 3 week hiatus, started run/walking again, very short distances. I was completely starting over. I had to relearn how to LET MYSELF run, rather than trying to force it.

I took my 10 year old son out to run a little, thinking I would help him learn to run correctly now, to avoid injuries, but he does it naturally. This was an epiphany for me. I took off my shoes and ran barefoot in the grass. This worked really well until I stepped on a beemono_mgt_black_ribbon2_grande… and then another bee. Had I known my new Luna sandals were in the mailbox at home it might have been better. As I apply the principles of Chi to my running, I find that my form is returning. I am striking mid foot. I am not having any pain. I am ready to get back on the trails and run. I had to simply let happen what I had done my entire life. I have to run like a child, with the joy a child has when they run.

Truth be told, that’s how I fell in love with running in the first place.

A Long and Winding Road

It’s a great treat to get to run a new trail once in a while. I’m extremely fortunate to have so many amazing trail close to home in the Folsom-El Dorado-Auburn-Cool area, but traveling a little further affords me the opportunity to see some completely different trails.

I’ve gone on plenty of motorcycle rides in the Mokuolomne River area and the scenery from the road is beautiful, but it doesn’t come close to the beauty from the trail. I got to run the upper part of the trail a few weeks ago and experience a trail called the Longest Mile, to which name it lives up to very well. The Mokuolomne River 50k covered the lower end of this same trail. I would have had to run the 50 miler to get the full effect, but I’m not ready for another one of those just yet.

The extra distance meant waking extra early, so I made most of my preparations the night before. Two water bottles (one with diluted gatorade), my spi-belt with a couple extra gu packs, and my Conner shorts (RypWear) and Patagonia tek shirt… I was going minimal today. I ended up more minimal than I had expected! Bolting out the door at 4 am to meet up with Edd, I forgot my water bottles and my trail permit. Yes, I said trail permit. Apparently East Bay MUD requires that you pay for and carry with you a trail permit, as well as pay for parking. I thought I would be clever and pre-purchase mine, but I left it at home. Fortunately Edd had cash and fronted me both fees, as well as a spare water bottle.

FTRs running and volunteering

FTRs running and volunteering

At the start we learned that the second aid station would not be there and that the water drop at the halfway point may also not be available. Again, lucky for me, a fellow FTR (thanks Lisa) was working an aid station and had an extra water bottle I could use. Two bottles should still be enough if I managed to not get lost.

Oh! Did I say the “L” word?

Edd and I started together, neither of us really in a hurry, just taking a pleasant run on

take a picture on the run

take a picture on the run

these beautiful trails. I stopped too often to take pictures. and got a little behind, but we were maintaining a pretty even pace. The first aid station was manned by FTR peeps, Carina, Hassan, and Lisa (aforementioned water bottle donor), so I filled up and continued on towards the next aid, 8 miles away.

Trotting along, a little behind Edd, I could still see him

mystery mine entrance

mystery mine entrance

just a curve or two ahead of me and I seemed to be gaining on him. Our plan was to just run the whole thing together and enjoy the day. I caught up to another runner and we talked for a while as we looked out over the river and the canyon at the mine entrances and caves on the other side. We came to a T in the road and noticed there were no ribbons. In fact, we hadn’t seen any ribbons in a while. We started back the way we had come until we saw the left turn we were supposed to make when we were looking right. A bonus 1.2 miles and now I was considerably behind Edd. Time to turn on the music and enjoy the trail on my own.

It had started out a little brisk at the 6:30 start (OK, 6:45 because for some reason it started late) so I had on a Hoo-Rag and some arm-warmers that were a little too large for

canyon views

canyon views

my lack of biceps, but they were free. The temps were rising quickly, however, and I soon had both looped through my spi-belt. The Mokulomne trails are made by cattle, rather than intentionally made by equestrians or mountain bikers like those around Sacramento, so they have a lot more up and down. I enjoy that kind of running and I found myself in and out of the shade. I ran out of water about a mile from the aid station and I was feeling hungry, in spite of sucking down a gu on the way. I was grateful for the out and back feature of the course because I came across Paulo on his return trip (I swear he doesn’t even touch the ground when he runs) and I got a better idea of how far I had to go. I gobbled down some chips and some peanut butter on tortilla sandwiches, as well as a salt tab and coke. They were already out of potatoes and gu, even though this was only the second aid and everyone needed to pass through it twice. Even if I was DFL (and I wasn’t) they still had served only half the traffic.

The next 8 (approximately) miles saw the turn-around, the non-existent water drop, and

The OK Corral - no, really!

The OK Corral – no, really!

everyone else in the race (including Edd) as I either passed them on their way back if they were ahead or my way back, if they were behind. I hit the turn-around point at 15.66 miles, which would be perfect, except that I had done that 1.2 bonus and so this wasn’t a full 50k. It doesn’t really matter because, in trail races, the variation in terrain is so great that you can’t really compare one race to another.

It was warmer now and I was a little concerned about water, since the final aid was 8 miles away, but I wanted to keep moving because I thought I might still have a chance to catch Edd. A couple shots of coke, fill up on water, some electrolytes and another peanut butter sandwich and I was on my way. My legs were burning and I was tired from the week of touring San Diego, but I felt really good and hoped to pick up the pace a little.

Top of the world view!

Top of the world view!

I didn’t! The downhills were tough on my toenails and the uphills were killing my quads, but I was moving and feeling good for the most part. I ran out of water again about a mile short

orange smiles

orange smiles

of the aid station and I had to stop like a bear in the woods. The too-large arm warmer came in handy there as I had not yet seen Ben’s t.p. trick… like I said – they were free anyway. By the time I got to the aid station and saw Lisa, Carina and Hassan again, I was starving and dehydrated. I filled up on water, electrolytes, coke, oranges… and PIZZA!

They said I was still about 30 minutes behind

PIZZA! The perfect aid station food!

PIZZA! The perfect aid station food!

Edd, so I got on the move again. I may have been further behind than that, because I finished 45 minutes behind him.

My only time goal was to finish ahead of the 50 milers who were going almost 20 miles further. I knew Ben would catch me with my extra 1.2 miles and he did. Half a mile to go and Ben went by me going up hill like I was standing still. I checked! I wasn’t… quite.

Truth be told, I was really happy with this race. I’m still recovering from AR50. My plantar fasciitis did not bother me. The trail was beautiful. The time I spent with friends was great. The time I spent alone with nature, with my music, and talking to God was ideal. Most of all, I am much closer to my goal of running for the love of running again.

If you would like to read about the 50 miler and a much faster pace, check out Ben’s Blog. Also, check out his post on trail t.p.

 

I’ll Never Do This Again… Until next year

pano

It seems that I can never get to a start line on time! I left my house early and picked up my buddy, Dave. We made the usual Starbuck’s stop, still thinking we had plenty of time, and arrived at Brown’s Ravine Marina 30 minutes before our wave 2 start and 15 minutes before the start of the 1st wave. Unfortunately, they closed the gate to vehicle traffic at 5:40, five minutes before we got there. I dropped off Dave and went to park the truck.

earlyfinishI found a space at the Burger Hut, about 1.5 miles from the start line. I made it to the start with only 2 minutes until the start of my wave and my drop bag had ended up in the wrong pile. As the wave started I watched the runners go by while I got my drop bags properly placed and hustled over to the start line at the back of the pack.

Dave, my new friend Dan, and I crossed the timing strip about 5 minutes after the clock started. We shuffled up to the pack and passed a few early walkers before we reached the marina bathrooms (hadn’t had time for that tradition either). By the time we turned off the pavement onto the dirt, it was already light enough that I didn’t need my head lamp.

The trail from Brown’s Ravine to the levy is one I am very familiar with and quickly fell into a comfortable rhythm running along the lake. Crossing the levy and weaving around Folsom Point, I was feeling loose and warming up. The Hokas were doing their job and I was shedding the Hoo Rags and the arm-sleaves I had started the race with. We continued on to the road and I had lost sight of Dave and Dan, but we met up at aid stations throughout the race. We had run past the walkers (don’t know why someone would sign up for a 50 mile race to walk it, but they do) and I had settled in with a group that matched my intended pace. I would see the same people off and on for the next 12 hours. The next several miles were on the road and then on the American River Bike Trail pavement. I had considered wearing road shoes for the first part of the race, but there was enough trail that I preferred to be in trail shoes the whole way. Besides, the Hoka cushion was kind to my plantar fascia.

The morning run around lake Natoma was familiar territory and went quickly. It was mostly downhill and I had to keep reminding myself to slow down so I would have something leftbouncybridge for the uphill part of the race. I ran into the aid station at Willow Creek and noticed some runners were sitting and, obviously, planning on a long break. My goal for aid stations this race was to be in and out quickly. I have found that my eye automatically draws towards what my body needs. I found what was working for me this time was a shot of Pepsi, a shot of electrolytes, a shot of Sprite, grab a quarter peanut butter sandwich and go! I had enough water in my Camelback. My first walk/jog came on Hazel up out of the Aquatic Center. Followed by a straight walk up the first dirt hill. Cheered on by a guy with a megaphone, I headed down the back of the hill and curled back onto the paved bike path for a while. I was thinking about the level of encouragement that takes place at these races, especially when compared to adventure runs, where it seems to be a game for the RD to tell participants that they can’t make it.

I headed up from Main Bar to the Bluffs and another favorite trail. This time I’m thinking bluffshow great it is to be running on so many of my favorite trails and running into so many runners that I run with on a regular basis, which I did here and ran with them for a while. When running with others, I turn the music off, just in case we decide to chat. Once on my own again, I put on the music and get lost in my combination of rock, contemporary Christian, blues, classical, jazz and country music that I keep on my iPod.I came upon the FTR aid station at Negro Bar sooner than I expected and met up with Dave and Dan once again. I also loved seeing all the people I know from the best running group anywhere and honestly felt completely rejuvenated. the only person missing was Steve Godfry, who I can usually count on to yell at me to keep me going at some point during almost every race, usually when I least expect it. This is one of the 3 aid stations I had predetermined ftraidthat I would spend a little bit of extra time. I refilled my water pack, grabbed some potatoes with salt and my liquid cocktail of pepsi, electrolytes and sprite. A quick picture with FTR friends, grab a quarter sandwich and on my way.

Shortly out of the FTR aid station I got my first surprise when I llamalook up to see a woman walking towards me, walking her… LLAMA?? WHAT? I didn’t even think to get out my phone to take a picture, so I’m glad someone else caught it. I pushed, now on a slight uphill, on the paved bike trail, looking forward to Beals Point, picking biketrailup my pacer and dirt trails to the finish. I made eye contact with a young dear that was bounding along the trail and stopped to look at me as I went by, before bounding away, followed by his brother giving chase.

I felt like crossing Folsom Dam Road was a key milestone and that I was practically at Beals, but that short stretch seemed longer than it was. Somewhere in here I started feeling hungry and ate one of my Gu packs. My shorts were starting to chafe and I was looking forward to changing into the RypWear Conner shorts I had waiting for me in my drop bag. Coming into Beals I got a burst of energy when I saw belasignAlessandra and my kids waiting for me with signs and cheers. I ran into Dave and Dan again, but we all left at different times.

At Beals I changed shorts, dumped my Hoo Rags and arm sleeves, put on a visor and got some more nutrition. Two quarter sandwiches, chicken noodle soup, fruit, fill up the water, pepsi, electrolytes, sprite, potato and salt. I gave my drop bag to Alessandra so I wouldn’t have to worry about it later. I also got to pick up a pacer at Beals. One more quarter peanut butter sandwich and Stephanie and I headed out to the trail.

Half done and I really was feeling great at this point. Tired legs, but otherwise good. The plantar fasciitis was reminding me it was there from time to time, but it wasn’t unbearable. the rolling hills up to Twin Rocks and through the grinders gave some good opportunities to run easily through the shaded trail, but also required some hiking and power walking. I love running through technical trails and hopping off of rocks. I was frequently hit with stephbursts of energy and could run stretches at a 12-13 min/mile pace. My favorite part of trail running is when my legs go numb and I’m moving fast enough to get a little breeze in my face. I got a lot of that here. Stephanie was exactly what I needed here. During the walking stretches we exchanged stories about running and growing up and I almost forgot that I was running 50 miles… almost. A few times I had to turn on music so that I would stop talking and run a while, but the rest I got in the walking stretches was exactly what I needed at the time. The next great surprise was at Buzzard Cove Aid Station… Ice Cream!! It was supposed to be an express station with nothing but water and electrolytes, but as we came in they offered ice cream. After eating a little bit, I covered the rest with some Pepsi and made a float. According to them, I was the only one to do that. It seemed obvious to me!

singletrackRolling hills to Horseshoe Bar and on to Rattlesnake Bar; somewhere in there I looked at my Garmin and saw I had run 33 miles… the furthest I had ever run… and I had PR’d my 50k time… new territory from here on out. It was time to drop off Stephanie and pick up Matt to get me the last 10 miles. Rattlesnake was my last ‘long stop’ aid station and I took in more soup, sandwiches and oranges. Water was ok so I left that alone for now, but did get some more fluids and grabbed a piece of candy bar and peanut butter sandwich.

Matt got me going again and was also an awesome pacer. He gave me the perfect mattbalance of “you look great” and “let’s keep going.” He occasionally sprinted ahead and snapped some pics, but I couldn’t find one of him, so I stole one form another run.

Again we had a gradual uphill, but with run able rolling hills. I was still feeling good, but the legs were definitely tired. I was starting to feel the burning quads on the up hills and my

Garmin battery had died so I really had no idea what pace I was going. I knew two things… I was ahead of the cutoff and I thought I had enough water to make it to the finish.

Ahead we heard yelling and thought we were coming up on an aid station, but it seemed to soon. We came around a bend in the trail and saw people stopped in the trail and

skunkmilling about back and forth. Then we saw why! This guy had taken position on the trail and was not letting anyone pass. Sadly, he was sick and likely died later that day (later runners reported that he was convulsing). A rabid skunk is nothing to mess around with so we traversed up the hill and around him.

trail

I took in some oranges and potato at Dowdin’s Post and skipped the water refill. Knowing that the last hill was 3 miles of serious up that I would probably mostly hike, I tried to run as much as I could. The motivational signs are always fun to read and something I look forward to on any long run,and they did not disappoint this year.

triumphantcantbedonegoodidea

 

 

 

 

I barely made it into Last Gasp, water-wise, and it was starting to cool down a little, as the sun started going down. I got a splash refill on the water pack and started the hike up the last hill. The quads were burning now and I was concerned about getting cold and tightening up. With Matt’s encouragement, I power-walked up the hill and started running again when the hill flattened out a little. I caught up to Sarah, who I met at Way Too Cool.3miles She is a fellow teacher who was running her second ultra (WTC being her first) in honor of her father who no longer runs due to physical ailment. It was an honor to get to meet him as well, since we had talked about him quite a bit in Cool.

Running up the last little rise and onto the street, I turned the final corner and sprinted (or as close as I could get to that at this point). As I approached the finish, there was Steve, already finished, wrapped in a blanket with a beer, yelling at me to kick it in. Now my race was complete.

A couple of things I learned: a 100 mile race is so far out of my comfort zone that I don’t want to consider it. 50 miles is a little further than I really want to go. The support of FTR, and especially Matt Brayton, Stephanie Jacobs, Edd Ligsay made this possible. Alessandra bringing my kids and them holding up signs truly made my day! I really love these people that I run with, these trails that I run on and running, in general. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to pace for someone else. I can’t think of any way to show my appreciation for what they did for me.

Truth be told, I’m looking forward to doing this race again next year. I think I can finish under 12 hours. I know, I said 50 was too far, but that was race day and this 4 days later. I had more fun running this race than any I have done before and this is the first time I have ever been smiling at the end.

By the way; Burger Hut was closed, but I did eventually get my post race burger. I had to make it myself and it was the next day, but it was awesome!burger