Dec 29, 2011

2011 Rewind, 2012 Crystal Ball

This has been a banner year and it seems like I've been saying that to myself for the past few years, but as each year passes new opportunities arise which leads to new things: whether that's a new adventure or new personal challenges or being one step closer to having a life-long profession.  As I look back at this past year I can't help but be satisfied and answer the question of whether I've made the most of things this year with a resounding yes.  Since this blog is really about backpacking, running, and PT I'll address all three:
Running: Back in late December 2010 I started to build a running base, something I've never done, and it saw me run 40-60 miles per week (January 2011-June 2011) consistently up until my first 100 mile race in June.  It's certainly nothing spectacular in absolute terms but relatively speaking it was a major step for me, since I've never undertaken anything like that before. Previously, I had been sporadic and inconsistent with more of my interest in running races without the proper work and respect for training.  2011 saw the shift from a recreational to a more focused but still very inexperienced runner.  To put it in perspective 50% of all my races happened this year: 1-Road Marathon, 4-50km races, 1-50 miler, and 2-100 milers.  With those experiences under my belt I'm ready to shift from a base-building runner to a hopefully more competitive runner and that's gotten underway the last few weeks.  My most proud races are the LA Marathon, Bishop 50 miler, and Javalina 100 runs.  The LA Marathon not only saw a 38 minute PR and Boston Qualifying time but it was the first time I considered myself a possible runner.  Bishop was my second 50 and I had doubts I could run it well because of a mile-42 ITB injury in my first 50 miler the previous year that saw me walk with a locked knee (couldn't bend it without severe pain) for the last 8.  That put seeds of doubts and a sour taste in my mouth while knocking me out for 6 weeks. So Bishop turned out to be a pretty emotional run, especially after running the last 12 miles hard.  After a disastrous San Diego 100 I needed to prove to myself that the 100 mile distance is something I can do well in.  Still undertrained I decided to give JJ100 a go and the result re-affirmed the potential I believe I have in the 100 mile distance.  Now I have Angeles Crest 100 in my sites and with proper training (already underway) it's an event I know I can do well in.
PT:  I have officially finished the academic portion of my PT schooling and it's been quite a road.  The last six years of full-time academia have been all for the purpose of one goal: becoming a PT. Now I'm 6 months away from my National PT Board Exams, July 2.  All that stands is a full-time 4 month internship and my school comprehensive exams.  Oh I cannot wait to get that financial and temporal freedom.  Also, my 5+ year job as a PT Aide came to a close yesterday and it's been a great ride with a once-in-a-lifetime boss, a great PT, friend, and future colleague.   
Backpacking: None of the aforementioned would have been possible without a passion and love for backpacking.  I wouldn't have gotten into running trails if backpacking didn't kick my ass every time I went out there and I wouldn't have devoted many years to get into a profession that allowed me to take time off to do it.  The first half of the year saw a small 2 day trek in Joshua Tree and an adventurous 110 mile east to west traverse of the sanctuary that is the Grand Canyon.  The real highlight of the year though was the Grand Traverse of the Alps, a 415 mile journey in the French Alps from Lake Geneva to the Mediterranean Sea with the love of my life, Megan.  By far the most physically demanding trip I've taken (117,000 of gain) and most rewarding.  It was a bittersweet day on the shores of the Mediterranean when tears and laughter were ever present.  What an experience of nature, culture, and personal challenge.  I can't wait to fully experience more of what this world has to offer.

So what's in store for 2012: My real focus is going to be Angeles Crest 100, getting my PT License and paying all my student loans off.  It's going to be a relatively quiet year for backpacking, a calm before the storm of sorts (PCT 2013, woohoo!) but this will give me time to reconnect with the Sierra's, my most cherished surrounding, on a JMT through-hike and new terrain not yet explored. I cannot wait for 2012!

December 22-27, 2011: 89 miles, 21,000 gain: High intensity week but will back off this coming week, especially with internship coming up.  Felt good throughout even at the tail end.  Best week of training so far and good progress.

2011: ~3050 miles running>hiking

Dec 22, 2011

Jump Start

As the year winds down to a close and the holidays are upon us I wanted to get a jump start on the big racing goal of the summer.  On my drive up to San Francisco last week with Megan to see "The Nutcracker" ballet I was debating on what 100 mile race I wanted to enter for the summer.  Usually in the summer time I have backpacking trips planned and running merely becomes an afterthought.  As mentioned in the post on why I trail run, it's a tool to stay in shape for backpacking season.  With that said these next six months are going to be full of turbulence as I have finished my 2.5 years of academic work for my Master's in Physical Therapy and all that stands left is a 4 month full-time internship, Comprehensive Exams, and my final PT Board Exams.  On top of all that we are planning to backpack the Pacific Crest Trail in its entirety (~2665 miles) starting April 2013.  With a trip of that magnitude money will need to be saved and debts paid off (i.e. student loans).  That means a lot of endeavors and re-kindling of relationships in the local mountains, and by local I mean the High Sierra's and the San Gabriels.  Why the San Gabriels too since it's not an area I normally spend a lot of time in?  On that pre-mentioned drive to SF I had a gut feeling that the Angeles Crest 100 was one of the right adventures for the summer.  It's a race in the local mountains that sees a hefty 21,615 feet of elevation gain and 26,700 ft of loss in the July heat.  This is a footrace that I have ultimate respect for,  involves terrain I want to explore, and challenges I feel I will be ready for.  My hiking background is a perfect fit for the amount of consistent climbing involved, especially during the latter stages of the race where inevitable fatigue takes over.  Now that I've completed two one-hundred mile races after my first year of real training (Dec 2010) I'm excited to see what a little experience and real challenging training can produce.  By real training I mean consistent 30-50 mile long runs on challenging, race-specific terrain, track work, hill repeats and other runs exclusively on trails with as much climbing as possible.  This previous year my "long" runs where basically 50K races once a month with one 50 miler three weeks before my first hundred.  Even before Javalina Jundred last month my longest run was 29 miles (two different runs that day).  Obviously nothing impressive or adequate for most people but for me that may have been the appropriate, probably conservative, plan to get me to the starting line injury free and prepared to complete the race.  Now it's about more than that.  It's about doing well and what that personal definition is, is something I'll keep inside to keep driving me.  About a week ago I strained my right calf (good start, huh) on a descent run causing a battle that lasted this entire past week.  I'm glad to say that with the right approach the issue is resolved.  What this lets me know is that with an increase in intensity of training that I'll have to look after my body with extra care; that includes self-care and appropriate days off.
Not to sidestep the backpacking whatsoever, I'll head back to the Sierra's on the JMT (3rd complete hike) sometime in late June/early July to not only get my hiking legs back but to re-connect to the mountains I truly love and cherish.  Other races and trips will be thrown in up until July that most likely will include the Ray Miller 50 (Feb 25) and R2R2R (March), Zion Traverse (April), Bishop 100K (May), JMT (June/July).  So that's the first half of the year all perfectly laid out, but we all know things can change.  Anyway these are the numbers for the week and photos from runs:

December 13-20, 2011: 79.25 miles
                                       19,000 elevation gain

Parker Mesa Overlook

Mt. Diablo State Park

Near the peak of Mt. Diablo

Mt. Diablo with The Onion

Descent down Diablo

Up Los Liones


Malibu Creek SP


Sunrise from Westridge


Dec 3, 2011

Recover and Go

It's been three full weeks since Javalina 100 and I've been taking it fairly easy in terms of sheer mileage volume, roughly running 40-60/week.  What I mentioned in the previous post was that I wanted to start more intense workouts and that's been pretty much what I've been doing.  I joined the LA Track Club, a conveniently short bike ride away, at the Santa Monica High School Tuesdays for speed work.  The three years since I've taken up running I haven't done one lick of speed work.  I'm now mentally and physically prepared to undertake the intense training I need to do to improve my running performance.  I've probably put it off so long because I know doing that kind of work is really not enjoyable compared to loping along the trails.  I also started to add some hill repeats that sees about 280 vertical gain in .2 miles and that too produces chemicals my brain doesn't particularly enjoy.  With that said, I'm hoping the Ray Miller 50 miler on February 25,  my third fifty, will see the full fruition of this added type of training, and even 2 weeks into it I can tell it's starting to have a positive affect.  It all starts on Monday, with one or two 50km races thrown in the mix just to get some long runs in.
The reason I'm putting in this type of training is because I want to see what my potential might be.  I know there is something there and I'm excited to start taping into it.
For now, I'm in a Ridgecrest motel because Megan has her first ultra race tomorrow morning: OTHTC 50K.  I'm really excited to see her perform well as I know she can.

Nov 15, 2011

Race Report: Javalina Jundred

Marshall with Kate preparing gels in ziplocks
Outside of Fountain Hills, Arizona, is  McDowell Mountain Regional Park, the Sonoran Desert local for Javalina 100.  After Bulldog 50km in August I was in this zone of neutrality.  I had no interest in running races as I was perfectly content to run for the sake of running, but I also wanted to capitalize on the big trip in the Alps this past summer to jump into a big race because I still had an ill feeling in my stomach from San Diego 100.  That wasn't a race that I thought accurately portrayed the training and effort I had put in in the beginning of the year.  Without the proper nutrition plan building up to the race and more importantly during the race, miles 60-90 became a disaster.  What I did take away from it was my ability to get through the crappiest of hours and pull through.  It was a character building race but I still felt like I needed a good 100 race, so after many weeks of debating back and forth of what to do I entered Javalina.  Now my training had a purpose and so I strung together 3 weeks of 100 miles hoping it will keep me fit enough complete the run.  My main purpose and goal for this race was to learn how to manage it.  I had no time goals because that wasn't the main concern.  I would have other opportunities for that. What I needed was to understand how to run 100 miles and apply the proper nutrition.  About 2 months earlier I had started to make friends with members of the Coyotes running group who have a group run Thursday mornings at various locations in the Santa Monica mountains.  With that, I asked Marshall, a good friend I met on the Thursday morning runs, if he would be willing to pace me and without hesitation he was more than willing.  So Megan, Marshall, and I drove to Arizona in 'The Bisq', a term Megan affectionately calls her car (Seabisquit anyone?).  Megan's mom lives in Phoenix so we stopped there to have lunch with her and Megan's step-brother and his family.  It was a pleasant lunch and we were soon off to Javalina Jeadquarters in the regional park.  Several Coyotes were running, crewing, and pacing the race so Jimmy, crew-chief of the Coyotes (and founder), had a plush spot right in front of the start/finish of each loop; a perfect spot to grab what was needed for each 15 mile loop (6.5 total=101.4 miles).  After setting up camp and chowing on dinner Megan bid farewell and went to her moms for the night.
4am rolled around and I prepared all that was needed: bottles of water, backpack with gels and salts, pre-race restroom activity (good sign), and clothing for the 6am night start.  The shot (not really) went off and everyone was on their way to their 101.4 mile journey:
Feeling good after first loop and stuffing a gel down throat. I eventually ate 40 of them!
Lap 1: I was feeling good about the lead up to the event and I had a feeling that I was going to perform well.  In all my excitement I felt something was missing.  I looked down at my hands and realized I had no water bottle with me. All the good feelings I had suddenly turned into dread.  However, I realized that under the cool morning air I would probably be fine until I got back to my crew.  I tried to carry a paper cup with water in it so I could take my gels every 30 minutes as I had planned but that was completely scratched when the jostled water wouldn't cooperate.  So I took the gels early and a little late after bumming some water off another runner and all the while making sure I was staying around a 10 min/mile pace, which was very difficult to do as my fresh legs just wanted to speed ahead.  After a calm first loop I arrived at Javalina Jeadquarters seeing Megan flashing her big smile which was unexpected, since I was expecting her later.  I kissed her and fetched my gels and water bottle (woohoo!) for the second loop hoping for a similar split. 2hrs 34 min, 15 miles
Still feeling good after second loop: 31 miles

Lap 2: Leaving the way I came (washing machine loop course) there were runners coming to and from all still excited in the early part of the race.  I approached the loop in relatively the same way but now with water in hand.  The next 15.4 was uneventful except the beautiful sunrise over the desert mountains.  The temperatures were absolutely perfect.  It's typically quite warm and dry for this time of year but everyone was lucky enough to get cooler temps.  I arrived at the 31 mile mark in another good time of ~5hrs 8 min
Heading out on Loop 3

Lap 3: While Marshall gave me a full bottle of water, gels and salts, Jimmy asked me what my goal time was.  And after I bumbled 22hrs (which I was pulling out of my ass because I really didn't have a goal time) he proceeded to gently tell me to "Slow the fuck down."  Off I went and this time I was feeling a little discomfort in my legs but nothing bothersome.  I started to hit my first low point seven miles into the loop and lasted all the way to the Jeadquarters.  I understood that these moments happen and it certainly wasn't the first time I experienced them but when you feel that way it's very difficult to convince yourself that you're going to get out of it.  You just have to trust that it will.  I have never listened to music during a race believing that one is missing the natural sounds of the surrounding and I even questioned why people would use it in a past blog post.  However, at that moment I was willing to do anything to get out of this mental funk.  Grabbing more gels and salts I demanded for my ipod. 8hrs 4 min, 47 miles
Off with Marshall on the fourth loop: Miles 62-77
Lap 4: I placed the ear buds in and turned on tunes I knew I would get pumped to: Seis Cuerdas.  At first it didn't seem to make much difference but something happened.  I just started to get a high like nothing I've experienced during a run.  It was a runners high on speed.  I started to feel a lot better and got super pumped blaring the music, which now was Ozzy Osborne's "Mr. Crowley."  I was strumming and just so psyched out of my mind.  I gave eventual winner Hal Koerner a big high five as I knew he was crushing that race.  I was pumped the entire loop and arrived the aid station blasting Bon Jovi (that's right!), surprising some people, and shouting out for Marshall to be ready to roll. Katie helped put headlamps, arm skins, a wind breaker, and a Red Bull energy shot (just in case) in my pack and off we went into the sunset. 11:03 hrs, 62 miles 

Lap 5: I was so stoked to have Marshall join me and I was still pumped from the music.  We talked and laughed and I blared out the five words I knew from the Bon Jovi songs.  We were cruising until about half way through the loop where the effect of the music started to wear off and I started to experience my second low of the race, which I suspected was going to be longer than the first.  When we arrived at aid stations he would grab my bottle to fill it up while I went to the aid station food and devoured a few pieces of watermelon.  I told Marshall about a run/hike technique I had been employing in my crappy moments: 1 min run/ 30 sec hike, even on the gentle downhills.  We finally arrived at the Jeadquarters at mile 77 I devoured more watermelon and off we went. 14hrs 26 min 

Lap 6: We started off but I was still in a rut and we continued the run-hike strategy, mainly because continuous running was very unappealing to me.  At the first aid-station I needed to sit for a moment: the first of the day.  Marshall brought over chicken noodle soup and we soon moved on.  We arrived about half-way through the loop and I bummed one ibuprofen pill of another runner at an aid station.  I continued on and started to feel better so we started putting some good consistent running until we were back at the Jeadquarters.  92.4 miles, 18hrs 5 min

Final 9 miles:  After seeing that it would be possible to get under 20 hrs we hurried to get all our supplies together so we could go.  Maybe I should say Marshall hurried because at that point he was more enthusiastic than me to push the pace and get under 20 hrs.  After some more encouragement from Jimmy we went off with the goal of going under 20.  At this point in the race "pushing" the pace meant 9 minute miles and from the get-go it felt like 7:30.  Then the rain started.  At first it was a few sprinkles but then it started to pour like hell.  I was desperately looking for the turn-off to complete the final several miles back to the finish.  Finally arriving we started to head back for the final four miles soaked but ready to finish.  It looked like if we continued at our current pace we would finish under 20 hrs.  We finally saw the glow of the finish line and I came in howling so excited that this journey went the way it did.  I stopped Marshall about 50 meters short and gave him a big hug.  I continued on, high-fiving George, Kevin, Jimmy, and whoever else had their hand out there! I was on top of the world.  I had done it, a well managed 100 mile run where just about everything went as well as it could have. 101.4 miles in 19hrs 49 min,  14th overall 
Hells yes! 101.4 miles 19hrs 49 min...1:49am, 14th overall
Ecstatic with silver sub-24 belt buckle

Sitting here two days since the finish it all seems like a blur.  I'm trying to recapture every moment of the run because I'm frankly proud of this performance and what it holds for future 100 mile events.  It's quite amazing how nutrition can effect a race and maintaining that turned out to be a huge part of why I was successful.  I'm going to recover for the week and do some hiking, light jogging, and give back to the trail community by volunteering to help for a PCTR event at Pt. Magu.  Well, I'll get a free entry so maybe it's not entirely for selfless reasons.  Speaking of selfless, I was inspired and impressed on how selfless the Coyotes were for one another.  They came out crewed, paced, supported, donated their energy and time for all their runners, including myself. Simply, a good group of people.
I want to give special thanks to Marshall who took another shift off work, although I don't think he's upset about that, gave his time and his energy to pace me and made sure I had water, was eating and taking salts.  I'll be paying him the same favor next summer. And of course to my girl and love, Megan.  She devoted her time to drive to and from Arizona, gave me confidence with her support and love.  I was always excited to hit the aid station ready to hug and kiss her.
I also want to give a shout out to all the runners that toed the line, especially Erin Chavin, Adam Bowman, and Gabi Schenkel.  Congrats to all!
So what is next?  My plan is to start working on some speed, power, and climbing skills in the next few months in time to be ready for the Ray Miller 50 miler in February.  But for now, reflection and recovery.  Happy Trails.

Lap Numbers

Me & Marshall post-race

I must be tired.
My love 
Yeah, I'll be wearing that buckle for a week

Nov 7, 2011

Pre-Javelina 100

10/26-11/2: 100 miles
Gain: ~10,000 ft

Tour de Mont Blanc (TMB) 2009 (Italian side)
My final week of training concluded and even though I would have preferred one more month I think I'm as ready as I can be at the moment.  The rain the past week has cleared the air making running in the local mountains even clearer where views of the Santa Monica Bay and Catalina Island have been spectacular.  It was difficult to break the mode of running two times a day this past week because once I got into a rhythm it became a natural part of my day and a time-consuming one (in a good way).  Unlike my SD100 run back in June, I've typed out a list of the things I need for self-crewing (since it's a loop course) so I have all my essentials ready and organized.  My goals for the run are to: 1) stay on top of nutrition/water/salt 2) complete the race successfully 3) finish well 4) and remain injury free.  The 'finish well' remark is in reference to miles 60-90 of the SD100 where a complete disaster ensued. No food, water, or salt got me into a deep hole that I couldn't really get out of.  This was evidenced on a run this past weekend where my legs were feeling heavy, so when Megan forced me to take a gel within 5 minutes my legs felt lighter, my breathing less labored, and generally felt better.  I didn't realize how immediate it got into my system until that moment and now my number one priority is to stay on top of food and salt.  I think this is going to make a huge difference in how I perform throughout the race.
We're driving to Arizona early friday morning where I'll set up camp at Javelina Headquarters and then the fun begins 6 am the following day.  If you're interested in my real-time position during the race and (1 loop= 15 miles) you can go to this link this Saturday and early Sunday:
I also submitted an application to the Hardrock 100 people to be able to enter the lottery and even though I didn't run in any of their qualifying races my backpacking resume was enough to get me in, which I was ecstatic about.  That is an adventure I would absolutely love to experience and it's right up my alley: lots of hiking in the mountains at altitude.  I'll need some luck in the lottery and I'm crossing my fingers.  If I don't get into that, I'll enter the Ultra Tour de Mont Blanc (UTMB) in August, a tough but absolutely beautiful trail I backpacked in 2009.  However, that all depends on my success at JJ100 because that gives me the necessary points needed to enter.  Oh, and Western States 100 applications are due this Saturday. A lot is happening now with the lotteries coming up in December, and my twenty page research paper on the best current evidence for treating running injuries (good new stuff related to shod-less running) is due at the end of this month. Phew! 
Good luck to all 100 runners this weekend!

Oct 26, 2011

2 1/2 Weeks Away

10/19-10/25: 100.1 miles
Gain: ~10,000 ft.

Another week of training gone.  This is the second consecutive week of 100 miles and with Javalina Jundred 2.5 weeks away I'm closer to being prepared for the race.  I still haven't technically signed up yet as there is no real rush but I'm going to send a check via snail mail instead of forking the ridiculous $15 processing fee that Ultrasignup will charge me on top of the entry fee.

The week has been crammed with school and 2 runs/day with 44 of those miles on trail and the rest boardwalk.  As much as I prefer trails there are two reason why I have run road 56 of those miles: 1) It's a "flat" course.  JJ has 4800 ft. of gain which is basically negligible when you put it in context of the race distance. 2) Convenience: it's a great feeling stepping out your door and being able to run but more importantly it saves loads of time not having to drive to and from a trailhead; and I hate driving.  One day I'll have a place that's nestled against some trails but for now will have to make do.
For the past 4-5 days I've had a little cold and I can't determine whether running that much has suppressed my immune system and left me vulnerable or I just picked something up.  Anyway, it's finally starting to improve and I should be ready for November 11/12.
The next 2 weeks are going to be tricky in the sense that I don't think I'm going to taper until the last week to half-week.  The usual protocol is 3 weeks before but I think I run my best races with just about a week of taper and since I haven't raced since August and my recovery practices post-runs has greatly improved I think it'll be ok.
This coming up training week, starting Thursday, will include some night runs and get my headlamp combo (2 lights) dialed in so it doesn't become an experiment on race day, as it did in the San Diego 100.  Also having some practice in the 10 foot bubble of light is going to keep me better prepared mentally.  By the way, it's still 90 degrees in Arizona and on a course with full sun exposure I sure hope it drops in a couple of weeks!
Next week I'll talk about the race itself a little more, my strategy, and how I'm feeling physically, and more importantly mentally.

Oct 18, 2011

Training and Things...

            10/11-10/17: 100 miles
Gain: ~9000 ft.

Top of Ray Miller Trail and Pacific Coast
After those 2 days off last week where my right hip was bugging me a little I've come back better than ever.  I've hit my first 100 mile running week ever.  I've backpacked 140-190 miles/week plenty of times but never in a running setting so this was new territory.  What was surprising to me was that the mileage was not all that difficult to do; meaning I wasn't fatigued at the end of the week or anything, but the finding the time to run that much is substantial.  While trying to juggle full-time school and work it's sometimes difficult to find 2-3 hours/day to invest (weekend 4-5hrs/day) plus weight training.  So it's a given that two runs per day is going to be needed to take advantage of the small time increments in the early mornings and evenings.  Today is a recovery day and I have to catch up on school work and will soon have to make decisions on the major backpacking trip of summer '12.  We have narrowed it down to the Pyrenean Haute Route, GR11, and GR20 and I'll go into more detail on these treks (all in Europe) a bit later.
I'm one step closer to making a decision on whether to give Javalina Jundred a go on November 11 or 12 and after this good week of training I'm a little bit closer to making that commitment.   Ideally, I want to string together 3-4 100 mile weeks which I think will set me up perfectly for the run.  Although I'll be going into it without racing in my legs since August it might keep me more fresh than my San Diego 100 experience.
Kevin Chan and I course-marked a X-Terra trail run event in Point Magu State Park of the season and although wearing a large pack with stakes and a hammer isn't the most comfortable thing in the world it reminded me how fun La Jolla Canyon singletrack trails are.  The view from the top of Ray Miller Trail is priceless and running down that well graded singletrack with the view of the Pacific Coast with the  the Channel Islands as background made me feel like a kid playing in this giant playground and it was great to share that experience and feeling.  I started running with some members of the Coyotes theses past weeks and it makes running the long runs so much more fun when you're with people you like and respect.  I've always been the sort to do things on my own because of a need for that solitude, and that is still there,  but I'm starting to learn and appreciate the value of community.  A little company with the right people is a good thing.

Oct 9, 2011

Thoughts and Great Weather

Why I'm sitting indoors on this sunny Sunday afternoon is due to the fact that my right hip has been bugging me all week.  I'm not sure exactly what it is but I think it's inflammation of a fluid-filled sack, called a bursa, just outside my hip.  For the past couple of weeks I haven't been stretching after my workouts like a should (and preach) and I've paid the price. I thought I was out of this cycle of injury but I should have been cautious and doing all my preventative interventions.  Fortunately, I don't think it's that bad as I can still run (unlike my ITB injuries) with it but I don't want to make it any worse.  So I'll just have to feel awful while a glorious day passes.  Why don't you just go cross-train or something?  Simply, I like being on the trails (and off). That's what my passion is and I might act like a spoiled baby but I'm not going to cross train. I use the bike for commuting and swimming is to useful if a shark is after me.  So I'll stay indoors, recovering, stretching, doing some core work, listen to some running podcasts, and pout.  My training week is now cut short and I'll have to make it up as soon as this thing lets up (very soon I hope).
I read an interesting thing on Lauren Fleshman's blog last night and she basically states that an athlete (something I'm coming to terms with) should think of themselves as a bicycle wheel and the spokes that maintain the integrity of the wheel are: nutrition, physical training, mental training, balance, competition, mental training, and recovery techniques.  These spokes can change but if one goes haywire or there is too much emphasis on one spoke, the wheel will start to breakdown.  So I have to admit my recovery technique spoke is busted up and I need to start paying more attention to it.  There is nothing like your passion instantly getting ripped away from you and only then (at least me) do you realize how important it is in giving it TLC to maintain good health; because this not only effects one's physical well-being but one's mental health and that one seems to be really needy.
My interest in Javalina Jundred will be determined this week by how my body reacts. If all goes well and I'm able to get a couple longer runs this weekend, injury free, I'll sign up for that hundo. If not, I'll give myself even more time to recover and look at a 50km or 50 miler.  Come on body, pull through!

Aug 28, 2011

Bulldog 50km: Race Report

It's been 2 years since I've been running ultra marathons and the race that started it all was Bulldog 50KM in 2009.  It was my second long-distance race and first ultra.  It's been tradition that I have a go in this race after summer backpacking with little to no running.  After backpacking the Alps, where the trails are considerably steeper and more technical, I figured I at least had more strength in my legs that should have me finish it and hopefully better than last year.  
Start of the 50km
A major heat wave warning was given to residents of SoCal and it was expected that temperatures would crack the 100s.  The weather did not disappoint.  The heat cracked the 104F barrier during the race and everyone suffered.  That was evident by 3+ ambulance runs and a search and rescue operation for some of the participants on the course.  The course is completely exposed with absolutely no place for respite from the sun and it only got worse the longer one was out on the course, especially on the second 15.5 mile loop for the 50km runners.  
The first loop went relatively well with my calves still sore from a thursday run at the beginning of the bulldog climb so I had to adopt a run/power hike early on.  That turned out to be a blessing in disguise and it frankly made the 7000ft of climbing on the course much more manageable throughout the entire run.  I completed the first loop in around 2:15 and was feeling ok, knowing that the already difficult 2nd loop was going to be much harder with the hard sun and heat bearing down.  I had read some research on running in the heat recently on how keeping your carotid arteries cool (ie: with a wet bandana around neck) your perceived level of exertion decreases, but not so much your heart rate and blood pressure.  That means I could maybe push myself harder than under normal circumstances.  With that information I decided to try it out.
The second loop had me passing many 25km runners with several trying to find any nook and cranny of shade but my real motivation was to get to the cool Malibu Creek at mile 29.  My legs were surprisingly holding up better than they ever have but the stifling heat prevented a strong run from happening. I could hear my heart beat in my ears at times and going downhill was slower going because I didn't have the ab strength to keep my core stable for the 2nd loop while trying to gun it downhill.  I soaked my neck bandana and hat the few chances I had and if I didn't have ice in my one 20oz water bottle it would become hot water rather quickly.  I finally got to within .5 miles of the finish were I was desperately close to the 5hr mark.  Back in March I ran the reverse of this course in the Malibu Creek 50km and came in at 5hrs exactly, which was slightly disappointing.  I was determined to not come in that time this time so I pushed hard on the last section and was glad to finish in 4:58.59.  I collected my medal and sat down on one of park benches in the shade trying to hide myself from the suns rays.  
Megan ran in the 25km course and came 2nd for women after hitting a wall before prison hill.  She performed admirably considering she hasn't run since May because of a severely sprained left ankle that didn't recover fully until late July.  
I was soon surprised to hear my name being announced over the megaphone stating I came 2nd in my age group, 20-29 and 7th overall.  This certainly wasn't expected because the previous year I had been 28th overall. It shows you how much the heat took out of everyone and my improvement.
It was great to see the courage in people who braved the brutal conditions after a mild summer and complete the race.  They now know they can get through very difficult moments and personally I can't help but think that my backpacking experience played a huge role in the ability to handle the adverse conditions. 
What I'm thinking of next is the Twin Peaks 50 miler (13000 ft. of gain in the first 42 miles! eek!) in October and possibly the Chimera 100 miler in November.  My last semester of academia starts tomorrow!! Woohoo!
Face of agony when running hard the last 1/2 mile to get under 5hrs.  
2nd in age group plaque. 7th overall.

Aug 20, 2011

Grand Traverse of the Alps (via GR5 & GR52)

It's been a while since I last posted anything and that's mainly because I've been in France backpacking the 415 mile Grand Traverse of the Alps (GTA) with my girl, Megan.  The route starts at Lake Geneva and ends at the Mediterranean Sea but at which town depends on the route you take at the very end.  Ever since I introduced my girlfriend to long distance backpacking on the John Muir Trail last summer I've been thinking of the next trip.  After my 2009 backpacking adventure of the famous 168km Tour du Mont Blanc, otherwise known as TMB, in France, Italy, and Switzerland I wanted to do something bigger that would see more of the Alps.  Out of the several options given (GR10,11,7) we decided on the 400-420 mile GR5.  Given our limited time in the summer we needed something that was well-marked and that could be completed in around 3 weeks.  Fast-forward to the June 23 in Geneva, we were set to take a bus to Thonon-les-Bains at the edge of Lake Geneva to start the trip south.
The trail philosophy in Europe is quite different than here in the US.  For starters in France the trails tends to pass through villages and hamlets much more often, no matter how useless those places are to a hiker. A town in the US and in the Alps are completely different in the sense that we were very lucky if a hamlet provided anything for the thru-hiker; ie markets, sporting good shops, places to eat.  What you usually got was a taste of the culture and the sense of history surrounding these places.  So with different cultures comes different philosophies on the most basic of things such as when a restaurant or market is open.  In the US if you stopped in a town there would no doubt be several fast food chains, markets, and gas stations with marts that would be 18-24hrs/day.  However, if we were fortunate enough to happen upon an épicerie (small shop) they would be closed from 12pm-4pm because that's the way the French do things.  You're looking for something to eat? The kitchen doesn't open until 7pm. So if you arrive at 2pm, as we typically did in certain places, good luck finding the single shop open. Coming from the land of convenience it was frustrating at first.  However, as time went on and we adjusted it was a refreshing take on our whole approach to life.  There are also mountain huts, or réfuges, day hikes away from each other that provide dorm like rooms, dinner, and/or breakfast at a price 33-45 Euros.  Pretty expensive for a hike of our magnitude but reasonable for weekend hikers.  However, we did it 4 times and got to experience the uniqueness of each place while sharing a communal meal.
I'm not going to talk about each single day and just recount what happened but I will talk about the trip in general terms.  The first few days were very tough mentally and physically and that was because the weather had been poor and according to people that previous week had seen winter-like conditions.  What that resulted in was excessively muddy trails in combination with some the steepest trails I've hiked on; think 1500ft gain in less than 1 mile as commonplace.  Megan also was just recovering from a severely sprained ankle back in June so she had just been swimming for the past several weeks; obviously not the same as shlepping a pack up steep mountains.  On top of that we were jet-lagged since we hiked 10 miles stepping of the plane that afternoon.  However, after those first several days of adjustment to the trail and time-zone we started to get into the groove of things.  Day 6 saw our first real great weather day as we walked along the magnificent ridges of Crete des Gittes.  From that point on the weather was fairly good with only one real all-day deluge and some mild rains here and there.  What was a saving grace was that we knew the further south we went the better the weather was going to get.
After getting through the muddiest day of the GTA on that same day the trail began to have consistently descent footing.  We soon passed through the magnificent Parc National de Vanoise and quickly hiked through the corporation-deluged ski town of Tinges-le-Lac.  From there we took a variant route that stayed in the valley a bit more and thus save some time which would later allow us to finish on the longer GR52.  After camping behind a town's outdoor crucifix at Valfréjus and sending out postcards we hit the weird little village of Plampinet.  Megan claims to have heard Bojangles outside our tent during our bivouac that night but who really knows.  We then passed through the beautiful Pac Naturel Régional Du Queyras after surviving the biggest town on the trek, Briancon.  We were wandering the streets for a while before we got to the very cool town campground where we met the owner's older son Charles, a lumberjack that had worked at Grant's Pass in Oregon.  We exited the Parc Naturel on what I think is the best mountain view I've ever seen on top of the Col Girardin.  One could see this stretch of rugged mountains stretching back to Mont Blanc that was simply something I was in awe of.  Two days later a cyclone had made it's way to southern France where potential lightening was going to happen, and this was the day we had to cross over 4 cols, including Pas de la Cavale, a pass dividing two different french alp regions. Unfortunately, the great views from that col were non-existent.  Three days later we camped well away from a private farm refuge on the border of the Parc National du Mercantour where wolves were rapidly procreating after a re-introduction.  The dogs soon spent the night running around the surrounding forests  to keep the wolves away from the sheep.  However, in the middle of the middle of the night Megan's food-filled pack was being dragged away from the tent from a suspected wolf.  I yanked it back but couldn't see anything because of the lack of a headlamp.  When we reached St. Dalmas we parted ways with the GR5, which would continue boringly to the large city of Nice, and went on the longer and more rugged GR52 that would pass through the heart of the national park.  What wasn't expected were class III scrambles over talus surrounded passes that became the hardest days of the entire trip (think 25-27 mile days with 10,000+ ft. of gain).  However, that was rewarded with being able to not only witness great views but ancient petroglyphs from the Bronze Age (3200-600BCE).  This is when my shoes had finally deteriorated into useless cloth and now the sole of my foot became the cushioning.  Unfortunately over very rugged terrain they didn't last long.  The last day and a half felt like I was walking on needles and not only that when I would stand still the blood pooling in my feet would make it much worse.  We reached the Mediterranean soon and were we were very sad that it was over.  It provided us with an experience of a lifetime that I will never forget.  Here is a link to the photos. I hope you enjoy them.
Days: 21
Miles: 415
Elevation gain: 117,240 ft
*in comparison: Colorado Trail: 470 miles 65K ft.,
                          John Muir Trail (if doubled) 422 miles 92K ft.

Jun 19, 2011

San Diego 100

San Diego 100 Course in Cleveland National Forest
The day finally came. After 6 months of running and racing for this solitary event it was time to put it to the test.  Arriving at Al Bahr Shrine Campground in the Cleveland National Forest, with support crew Megan and her friend Mary, we found TheOnion at one of the campsites where we soon pitched tents and organized items (e.g. gels, food, water, drop bags) for race day.  After checking in, which included getting race goodies, a mandatory weigh-in and race briefing, by director Scott Mills, we sat outside in pleasant afternoon weather eating dinner while Megan and Mary played a game of horseshoes.
Elevation Profile 

The next morning I woke up at 5am to a chilly 39 degree morning with wind chill and picked up my race bib number and anxiously nibbled on half a muffin.  The past week I had been feeling anxious. Every hour of that week had been scrutinized: Was I drinking enough, was I on my feet too much, what and how much was I eating, etc.  Now that anxiety was slowly transforming to excitement mainly because I did everything I could feasibly do consistently while attending a full-time grad program to give myself the best chance at completing the run, which was the ultimate goal.
The race soon started with the first aid station 7.4 miles away.  It was a pretty beginning with a stroll through Laguna Meadows, but the thing that stands out in this section was that I was about 10 minutes faster than my original planned time by the time I got to the aid station with my legs not feeling as fresh and springy as they were for the Bishop 50 a few weeks prior. My perceived exertion was higher than normal for the type of terrain I was running through. You can do everything you can to end up feeling good on race day, and I've had those fortunate experiences in the past, but today was not it. However,  I was hoping a solid training base would offset that.
To give you a general idea of the course it was nearly all single track with technical terrain (just ask the runner who ate it in the first few miles), 18000+ feet of elevation gain and loss, highs of 85 and lows of around 32 with cold winds kicking up to 30-40mph, and nearly all exposed.
Race morning with Megan
The next 16 miles saw a return to the pace I originally wanted to run at and with rocky uneven terrain creating a difficult environment for rhythmical running.  For the past several miles I had a bothersome left hip flexor and knee which was baffling to me since I had zero issues with it the past several months and I couldn't think of any legitimate reason on why of all days it wants to show up now.  It didn't really slow me down but it was another thing I had to monitor. From my understanding and experience the longer the race distance the more small problems balloon into large ones so I was desperately hoping it would disappear.  I arrived at Penny Pines aid station a little low on energy and had Megan put some menthol cream on my left knee and hip flexor in hopes of distracting the nagging issues there.  The next 20.5 mile loop plunged into Noble Canyon on very technical downhill terrain where the cool breeze immediately ceased and stale heat took over.  I started to hit a small wall in between miles 31-36 where a dusty, hot, and horse-fly infested trail slowed me down.

After dunking my hat in a flowing cool creek I started a hot and difficult 8 mile climb out of the canyon where 20 horseflies decided to set-up camp near my head and shoulders where continual biting through my shirt produced some welts all the way until the mile 44.1 aid station.  Megan and Mary were waiting for me with a chair and some food but I was soon off on a gorgeous section of the PCT where you contoured around some mountains overlooking a huge valley in Anza-Borrego Desert.  I started to employ a 1 min walk/run strategy hoping to milk whatever I had left in energy.  The near halfway point at 51.3 mile aid station, Sunrise 1, saw me enter in at 10 hours 46 minutes.  This was a good time but I was already feeling low on energy. I attempted to eat, nearly not enough as I should have in retrospect, but I continued on. I caught up to TheOnion who was about 15 minutes ahead of me and got to Stonewall Mine, mile 58.9, where Megan would become our pacer.  At this point it was about plugging along as I didn't have the energy to keep a running pace.
Rolling into Penny Pines 1 (Mile 23.6)

Megan was chipper, eager to lead us through the night portion. We brought headlamps and headed out into the sunset.  Half a mile into the leg Megan rolled her left ankle where a baseball sized pocket of inflammation immediately presented itself. This was fairly devastating and painful for Megan and myself but she put her pain aside and led us without question to the near top of Little Stonewall and Stonewall peaks. I knew she was in severe pain but she never gave up and didn't complain once.  I was starting to come unravelled at this point. The climbing and startlingly cold night had started to put me in a lower energy setting.  Nearing Paso Picacho aid station, mile 64.2, TheOnion's body decided it didn't like what was sitting in the stomach so it prompted several (count: seven) upchucks, mainly water.  We finally arrived at the aid station freezing cold, dehydrated, pale, and looking like we just went 4 rounds with Mike Tyson. We huddled next to a propane heater trying to warm up and putting on the extra clothes from our drop bags.  An aid station volunteer soon realized that more clothing was necessary proceeded to offer his Mountain Hardware softshell, which I'm sure is over $100.  Even in my increasingly fatigued and cold state I was taken aback.  I was amazed at the lack of hesitation of offering a complete stranger his jacket. It was not the last time in this event where an act of kindness presented itself.  We soon headed out, stomach's anew with chicken noodle soup, more clothing, and a sense of mild rejuvenation.  We headed out into a continual 8 mile climb back to Sunrise aid station, mile 80.  The brisk hiking pace soon devolved into a slower walk as Megan stayed with me and TheOnion spurted ahead.  We would soon see him sitting on a log, head in lap, poorly attempting to not give way to his bodies strong desire to sleep.  With encouragement from Megan he would get up and the process would repeat all over again several times.  However, my moment of truth soon came: I hit a wall. Not some wall in a typical person's marathon where they slightly slow down. This was a wall I could not break through.  I stopped the hike, hunched over head in between knees, and started to fade quickly.  At first, Megan thought I was just tired and needed a moment's rest, although she would soon come to understand that this was not a low point of short duration.  TheOnion got ahead of us again but my body and mind did not, could not, move forward.  My eyes started to close and I desperately just wanted to lay down on the headlamp-illuminated trail even though 30mph winds and a 30 degree night surrounded us.  She kept urging me to get up and walk with her but I could only respond in weak grunts.
Sunrise 1 Aid Station (Mile 51.3)

By now Megan was holding on to me trying to keep me from stumbling over and talking to me to keep me conscious. She was starting to get frightened on why I had suddenly started to badly fade and soon tears appeared.  My gait had become on-par with a drunk person on the verge of passing out and I could barely keep one foot in front of the other whilst being a seemingly infinite miles from the aid station; with no other options we could only stumble forward in the cold starry night. Those couple of hours felt like an eternity and we soon crested a hill revealing a well lit aid station.  Some runners that had passed us reported my number to the aid staff to alert them about my condition. We found TheOnion plopped on a camping chair next to a propane heater huddled in a large blanket, the look of fatigue clearly evident. He had been resting and waiting, with Gazelle, who was going to pace him for the final 20 miles.  Anna, an aid station volunteer, sat me in a chair and threw a blanket over me. I immediately tried to sleep but I really needed to lay down. After slowly answering some of her questions she decided that I really did need to lay down.  I was placed on the floor with a blanket and immediately wanted to sleep for at least 30 minutes. "Nope, only 10!" was Anna's response. I begged and pleaded for 5 more minutes and she soon relented.  At first I didn't understand why she would only let me sleep that long, but she had a feeling (and she was right) that if I slept longer without moving that I would call it quits.  That was certainly my most trying moment of whether to continue or not.  I had traveled 80 miles so far and had only a mere 20 remaining; but to me that 20 felt very far away.  Anna soon disturbed my sleep and I begrudgingly opened an eye big enough for me to slurp some chicken noodle soup.  As a tried to lay back down an "Oh no you don't!" came out of Anna's mouth.  Both her and Megan wanted me to start walking. Like hell I was!  After deciding that there was no way I was going to live with myself if I didn't finish this and after traveling 80 miles, what was 20 more?
I soon staggered up, immediately feeling a little better, and Megan and Mary got all the extra clothing we had to wear. I was soon bundled with 6 layers on top and 3 layers on the bottom; finally, warmth! To cheers from an amazing aid station I soon walked those few steps forward to continue the race with Megan in front. I had spent 1 hour there recovering. With the first sign of light appearing on the horizon, I thought back to what I'd been hearing from multiple runners: that now matter how awful the night portion, and it was, there was going to be a newfound sense of rejuvenation as soon as you see light.  So with that first light, the memories of that difficult night portion faded, but I didn't get a strong desire to push the pace. What also happened was that vicious wind was blocked by the mountains we were hugging and the 5+ layers we had on were now a burden.  We stripped down and carried all the extra weight as we made our way back to Pioneer Mail 2 aid station. With 2 legs and 13 miles left, Megan's last contribution was to pace me on the next 4 miles to Penny Pines 2, with me finishing the last 9 solo.  The next 4 miles were definitely at a stronger hiking pace and we reached penny pines in an hour or so.
Penny Pines 2 Aid Station (Mile 91.5)

I rested up for a bit, bid farewell to my wonderful pacer, who was icing her puffy ankle.  In the previous leg I had planned to run the final 9 miles as hard as I could no matter how I was feeling.  I started to run immediately and was actually feeling pretty good, a marked difference from a few hours ago.  There was still one big climb involved but I was on a mission and was focused on finishing these last miles with some quality.  The people that had passed me in the past several miles were all coming back. The deep ache in the balls of my feet didn't stop me from blazing the rocky downhills and finishing strong.  I zoomed by the 96.4 mile aid station without grabbing anything and who would knowing they were only 3.6 miles away.  I ran hard and could feel the finish line in my pores as adrenaline started to really kick into gear.  I was moving faster and faster, zooming by runner's here and there, like I just started a 5k race.  I wondered why I couldn't muster this energy before but the constant mental battle during a race of this magnitude is a difficult one to win.  I soon reached the "One mile to go" sign and now I was in full swing.  I passed by my campsite and a surprised Megan, who wasn't expecting me for another hour.  The smattering of claps and cheers from the spectators brought a smile to my face.  Soon enough, the final 100 meters was a straightaway to the finish. I pumped my arms and a wide grin crested my pale and fatigued visage as people around cheered.  I crossed the line in 27 hours 54 minutes and 5 seconds, every second accounted for and used. I shook hands with the tireless race director, Scott Mills, thanked him for a wonderful event and was given the much-heralded item in 100 mile races: the belt buckle.  I sat down on a chair and just wanted some time to realize what just happened.  One step over that finish line was the cumulative effort of the past half year.  I had done it.
As I sit here in the comforts of my home and recovered 1 week I've had more time to reflect on the race itself.  First, I want to credit half of the race to Megan, my courageous and loving cornerstone.  Were it not for her I honestly don't know how I would have made it to the next aid station in my long moments of complete vulnerability.  She held me up, figuratively and literally, through bone-chilling cold and a seemingly never-ending night.  33 miles in total on a sprained ankle that occurred .5 miles in.  She had also been my rock throughout these past 6 months of training.  Someone I could talk to and share my innermost feelings and fears.  If my love for her couldn't get stronger it was now cemented. Oh, and did I mention she was also battling an upper respiratory infection?
Mary was everything a runner would want in a crew member: willing to put up with the crappiest of situations with hilarious jokes, smiles, and punctuality.  She made the race a lot easier on both myself and TheOnion.  She was at each aid station providing us with whatever we needed without complaint. I owe her a lot.
Finish 27:54.05

This was my first 100 and after a first 50 miles in 10:46 and second 50 in 17:08 there were some lessons to be learned.  Preparation: I think I did all I could do considering school and work circumstances to put myself in the best position to successfully finish the race, which only had a 67% finish rate.  However, in retrospect having a hard 50 mile race just 3 weeks before the 100 was not the best thing.  Next time I will try to space it out 4-5 weeks, but that comes with it's own difficulties, mostly due to the lack of local 50 mile races.  Nutrition:  In my last 50 mile race I consumed mostly gels and water at regular intervals and it worked out really well.  However, 100 miles is a different beast entirely and I wasn't prepared.  Gels only is not going to cut it. Real food is needed and should be consumed at regular intervals.  Being out there for 20+ hours sustenance is needed to maintain any semblance of a decent pace.  I learned my lesson and will be taking it a lot more seriously next time.  Next time? At first reaction after the race there was no way I was going to enter another one. I questioned the lack of sleep and core philosophies of whether this is something I want to continue doing (100 milers that is).  Was it worth the time and effort?  I was very happy I was able to finish it but was I enjoying it? It seemed on the verge of ridiculous at times and frankly, as I predicted, it took me to lows I've never experienced in a trail run.  With that being said there is something in me that knows that I can perform better.  It was my first try and it was a rite of passage.  Time became irrelevant. It was about truly experiencing the event highs and lows and paying my dues.  There is a reason only 67% of the starting line field actually finished.  I was able to get through those lowest of low points and come out of it with a new found experience. I will be very picky with my spots but I don't think this will be my last. The 100 is a different run. It's not so much about VO2 or speed but simply about enduring through the lowest points and grinding it out.  It's about finding your formula to success no matter who's around you.  It's about the symbiosis of you, a natural being, and the natural surrounding world. It's about making the most out of your life.
Crew of the Year

Start line (TheOnion and me)

Rolling into Red Tail Roost (mile 13.8)

Crew (1/2) and Pacer

Sunrise 1 (Mile 51.3)

Penny Pines 2 Mile 91

Megan, me, TheOnion, Gazelle post-race

Post race=fatigued but happy

The coveted belt buckle

Denali Expedition Recap

Summit Ridge I won’t be writing about the day to day as that was succinctly put in the twelve “Denali Transmit” posts which you ...