T H E 6 T H F L O O R

Life in 6 Land

T H E  6 T H  F L O O R - Life in 6 Land

Finishing is Winning: First 50K

Me and Otto at the start of the Diablo Trails Challenge 50kGrueling only begins to describe the Diablo Trails Challenge I participated in yesterday, running my first 50K (measured out at 31.7 miles). Even spending time on Mt Diablo running 18 miles of the 31.7 mile course I was not prepared for the challenge that lay ahead of me. I knew it would be tough and I hoped I was mentally prepared to go the distance. For me, finishing was winning.

Never having run this sort of a distance combined with all the hills, I really didn’t know what to expect for a finishing time. My running partner, Otto and I discussed this in the lead up to the race and settled on 8 hours. Probably a bit aggressive a finishing time for me. Realistically, I knew 8:30 to 9:00 hours was going to be more inline with my training and abilities. As I made my way over the miles of trails, my finishing time was irrelevant. Finishing the challenge was the goal.

Ask me in 2011 if I thought I would be running, let along running a 50K and the answer would have been an emphatic, “Hell no!” It’s been an amazing journey following a plant based lifestyle to help heal my body, improve my health and get into shape. This is a challenge I could not have done 44 pounds ago. I had nearly 9 hours thinking on why I wanted to run this race and never came up with an answer that satisfied me.

This was an adventure, a challenge to prove to myself I could accomplish something extraordinary. After missing out on my first marathon last December due to shoulder surgery there was something intriguing about running Mt. Diablo. This would also prove a testament to myself of just how far I have come in improving my health.

IMG_0774-1As for the race…it was slated for a 7am start from Round Valley Regional Preserve, an area I knew well and run quite often. Some hilarity ensued moments after I arrived at Castle Rock Park (the finish line) in Walnut Creek. Otto and I had been messaging each other to meet in the parking lot up for the 45 minute bus ride back to the starting line.

It was just past 5am and still very dark and I saw a guy standing near his car. He looked like Otto and I went over and started talking to him. Moments later his brother walked up with information pertaining the buses arriving in 30 minutes. We hopped back in his car to stay warm. We all start talking about the course and our training and suddenly I get a message from Otto, “I’m walking towards the park.” I chuckle and it hits me, “You’re not Otto, are you?” He looks at me after I explained I was to meet another friend here. “No man, I’m Larry and this is my brother.” A few minutes later I was out of the car, walking towards Otto as we finally met up to wait for the bus.

The start of the race was delayed, as Brazen Racing didn’t have bibs at the starting line for runners who didn’t pick them up prior to Saturday. Worse there were no safety pins. The race started about 10 minutes late and as the gun sounded we were off. Otto and I ran together for about half a mile and then he took off ahead, I would never catch him but would pass him as he was coming out of aid station number 2 (at mile 15.6), bumping knuckles, exchanging words and we each went our separate way.

IMG_1344It’s difficult to put into perspective the difficulty of the course, as looking at a profile doesn’t do Mt. Diablo justice. At mile 3.75 the fun of the first climb began. It was challenging, but being fresh I knew this would be the easiest climb of the race. Knowing that, it didn’t help as the pace was slowed to a walk for the next 2.25 miles. At the summit, the pace quickened as it was all downhill to the first aid station at mile 8.2. At this point I still felt good, taking on water having a few pieces of banana. I skipped the processed foods and sugary drinks opting for my Larabars and Medjool dates I brought with me for the long haul across Mt. Diablo.

Out of the aid station was the second big climb, 1000 feet in 1.6 miles. It was during this climb I got a sense of just how long and challenging this course was. I had studied the mountain for a few months and had a good idea what to expect, but just when you thought the trail would flatten out around the next turn you are jolted back to reality that the trail still continued up. At the top of the hill it was a feeling of relief and excitement to look out over Mt. Diablo State Park, it was an awe inspiring view! I had picked up a second wind just passing the 2:45 mark (mile 10.2). Two hills down…but two remained.

This was probably the easiest part of the run, as I ran across the crest of the hills looking west over the East Bay. I put together some of my best times over the next 6 miles or so averaging 11-12 minutes per mile. Not great, but it was a comfortable pace, knowing I would only be half way home by the time I reached the second aid station.

The trails were rough, lots of rain weeks before the race, the movement of cows and horses as well as weather and wind blown crevices marred the course. Rarely did your foot get a flat landing zone. There were some single tracking trails that measured no more than 12 inches wide with green grass rising some 5 feet high, as the wind blew over it. Overall the terrain was quite diverse on Diablo from hard packed trails to sand and loose rocks.

Things were looking up as I spotted the intersection of the trail that would lead to the second aid station. I continually looked at my watch, but I am not sure why. I still had a helluva long way to go and I kept telling myself, “time doesn’t matter.” At the bottom of the trail I passed Otto coming the opposite direction out of the aid station, he was looking good, seemed to be strong, but did complain of some cramping issues. We exchanged a few words and that was the last I saw of Otto until the finish line.

This was probably the most crucial aid station and I spent more time than I needed. I ate well, shoving handful of quartered potatoes in my mouth. I was surprised to see potatoes available and they tasted so damn good! In hopes of avoiding cramps I also had bananas and took a salt tablet before hitting the port-a-potty, getting my Camelbak loaded with more water and going back to the course.

The first three quarters of a mile were easy, but the fire road turned into single tracking that led to the worst climb yet. It was a series of steep climbs and short descents over the next 4 miles. During this portion of the race I started to get delirious and didn’t feel right. I felt light headed and was getting very tired, the narrow trail combined with the canopy of trees overhead didn’t help. I remember just wanting to get this climb over with. Once I broke from the trees I seemed to get that third wind and felt better, tired but had lost that delirious feel.

IMG_1555At this point I picked up another runner named Esmail and we ran together to the next checkpoint. All the volunteers were outstanding! It was a sense of relief, as they helped get the hydration pack off my back and refill it for me, offering a sponge of cool water to clean the weathered and sweat soaked head. I continue to chow down on potatoes and bananas and took another salt tablet, just for good measure. It was about this point when I realized I would finish this race. Just 8 miles from the finish it was 5 miles to the final checkpoint and then a 3 mile dash (okay, walk and sometimes run) to the finish. I continued to tell myself it was two short races to complete.

Unfortunately Diablo wasn’t going to make it easy on me. I knew I had one final climb and I dreaded this climb when I did it previously on a 20 mile training run. With about 4.9 miles remaining in the race that last climb began for the next 1.2 miles rising 636 feet. It wasn’t the biggest or baddest on the course, but it was the final one and being as tired as I was it was more than challenging. I continued on, walking much of the trail until I hit the peak, which turned into another single tracking trail measuring about 12 inches wide with towering grass that ended at the fourth and final aid station at the top of a short rise.

I hydrated, ate some potatoes and popped a few more bananas and took one final salt tablet. I felt great at this point knowing the rest of the course was essentially downhill the rest of the way. At this point I was fatigued, legs were sore, quads were burning, I continued to feel a twinge in my right calf and my toes were tender from contacting the front of my Salomon shoes. I had to use some caution right out of the aid station as the next mile was downhill. While my body wanted to go faster, I just could not muster the energy and feared a leg would give out or I was misstep and end up injuring myself, so I took is easy coming down, which led to a 2 mile trail that concluded at the finish line.

sst-finishFor the last 2 miles I picked up another runner named Roger and we walked/ran the last 2 miles together. I was trying to conserve what little energy I had left for the final hoorah, running down the chute to the Brazen arch, which was the finish line. One final runner passed us about half a mile out and I decided to leave Roger and finish my first 50K. Rounding the last turn what I had trained and worked so hard for came into view. The finish line! I heard the announcer call out “Stephen from Oakley finishing in a time of 8:53:33!” as I crossed the timing mat. The best part seeing Otto and Brian standing at the finish line taking pictures and cheering me it. It made the entire experience worth it.

Crossing the finish line and even now as I write up my experience I still can’t believe I accomplished a 50K (31.7 miles as Brazen measured the course). The entire adventure was amazing. I was able to push my body to limits I never knew I had. It makes me wonder, what else I could accomplish?

I first explored running a 50K last November while recuperating from my shoulder surgery. I knew I would not make the marathon in Sacramento and didn’t want to wait until the following year to run my first marathon. The Diablo Trails Challenge intrigued me and it was literally in my backyard. I started surfing the Internet looking for training programs. Starting my marathon training I purchased No Meat Athlete‘s Marathon Road Map Training Program (Price $37). I started reading more and found an article titled on Competitor.com, Going Longer: How To Train For Your First 50K, best of all, it was free! Inside the article was a 16 week training program, so I combined the training programs and made my own 22 week program to prepare my 50K.

I’ll be honest, I didn’t follow it as closely as I should have. In fact after the first 6 weeks I nearly forgot about my training program. I knew the April 19th date was rapidly approaching but I was not running as much as I should have. In January I ran 90 miles, followed by 28 miles in February and only 6.12 miles on March 4, which would be my final run before the start of the 50K. So was I really prepared? Hell no, I am sure if I partially followed my training plan I could have knocked off 30 minutes on my time.

As life goes, I got busy starting in February with Little League, which took up a considerable amount of time, more than I remember last year. I had obligations to my wife as well as work around the house that is never ending. Work seemed to be never ending, picking up overtime hours and spending part of 2 days a week working in my son’s class and managing PTA duties. I am sure these could be seen as excuses, but I was setting my priorities. In my mind I knew I could run 31 miles, as finishing is winning.

sst-medalsI mentioned before I fueled my run on Medjool dates, I trained with these for my half marathon last year and continue to use them now on longer runs. They are easy to carry, easy to eat and give you quick energy. For the 50K I brought 22 dates with me, the plan was to eat one date every 2 miles. I also brought 3 Larabars with me to use as a mini meal between aid stations. To supplement even further I had 3 sleeves of CLIF Shot Bloks. Not my first or second choice for fuel, as they contain ingredients I don’t want to eat. Yet these still agree with my body when running.

I also carried a 70 ounce hydration pack by Camelbak, which I filled with water. I don’t believe I ever drank more than half of the water based on the level required to top off the hydration pack at the checkpoints. Even at the checkpoints I stuck with water and did not try the sports drinks or other sugary drinks being offered.

The last part of my preparation, my nipples. Laugh if you must, but after 13.1 miles during my first half marathon I came home with raw nipples from my shirt continually rubbing while I ran. Talk about sore! For the 50K, my wife came through the night before with breast pedals! I shaved my chest and affixed these pads over my nipples and they stuck with me until the end of the race. It was a relief NOT to cross the finish line hold my chest, wincing in pain.

Thanks to Otto for joining my on this adventure, he was a beast out there finishing in 8:14:42, much closer to our 8 hour goal. Huge props to Brian for hanging around the finish line after he finished his half marathon waiting for Otto and I to finish. Big thanks to my wife and son letting me chase this goal, as well as friends who supported me. Also thanks to the Julie Marie and all the folks in the group Protective Diet Living on Facebook, without a lifestyle change this 50K would never have been possible. Now it’s time to look forward to a new, bigger goal.

50K Saturday!

50k2Come Saturday morning, before many readers to The 6th Floor are awake and sipping their first cup of coffee I will be off and running, participating in my first 50K. The race sponsored by Brazen Racing is the Diablo Trails Challenge, which begins in the Round Valley Regional Preserve and makes its way up and across the hills of Mt. Diablo ending at Castle Rock State Park in Walnut Creek. This is my first venture into a race of this distance, only completing a half marathon last August in San Leandro.

This isn’t a race so much as it’s an adventure, a measure of just how far I have come since taking control of my health and fitness at the end of 2011. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think, “yeah, what the hell let’s run 31 miles today.” I was contemplating the California International Marathon last December before I was sidelined with shoulder surgery in late October that prevented me from any exercise, including running.

Now fully healed and healthy I am ready to tackle this challenge headlong. I won’t be alone in this adventure, as co-worker Otto P. will be joining me. Hopefully together we will conquer this challenge and end up crossing the finish line sometime Saturday afternoon (8 hours is our goal). While I probably haven’t put in enough miles leading up to this challenge, I have run some hills, including about 18 miles of the 31 mile course we will be facing.

More importantly, the mental aspect required to keep pushing your body past the point it wants to quit. I thought I knew what that felt like on two previous runs, but this 50K is an entirely different beast. I know I can run 20 miles, which puts me two-thirds of the way there with only one last climb at milepost 25.5 and mostly downhill starting at milepost 28.2. Hopefully running with a partner we will be able to push each other and stay positive when the heat is beating down and there seems to be no end in sight.

Much like the half marathon I am going to fuel myself with Medjool dates. During that race it was one date every mile, probably overkill, then again it was my first distance rce. For Diablo I might eat one date every 2 miles. I will also be wearing a hydration pack that hold 72 ounces of water with more available at the 4 first aid stations separated by about 8.5 miles. I might also pack a few bananas, even though the aid stations will be stocked with water, sports drinks and snacks for all 50K participants. Not sure I really want to eat processed snacks I have not trained with previously.

The weather is a bit of a concern as temperatures have climbed over 80 the past few days in Oakley. The weather in nearby Walnut Creek seemed to be similar. For Saturday there is a planned high of 73 degrees, with any luck we will have some scattered clouds that could keep the temperatures in the mid-60s up through about noon. In relation to where we will be that should put up just past the halfway mark.

The goal of this adventure is to finish. Regardless of total time, finishing is winning! I intend to win. Much like Otto P. did a few weeks back, I might drop a few video/image updates on Facebook or Instagram as we make our way over the trails on Mt Diablo. Looking forward to getting on the mountain!

Coaching to Lose

just_for_kidsThe AA Braves of East County Little League can’t seem to buy a break, but were taught an invaluable lesson last night, as they came from ahead to lose the game. As manager, my decisions probably lead the collapse we saw on the mound and in our defensive play. While I didn’t plan on coaching to lose, results saw the team come up short. Thankfully the coaches supported the decisions that were made and we accepted the outcome. After the boys got their snack they forgot about many of the details until our post game talk in right field.

Never will I single out a ballplayer as the cause for a loss, to do so would be irresponsible on my part. My role as manager is to always be positive and respect each child as an individual while teaching the the fundamentals of the game. At times its been frustrating observing the players “perform” the fundamentals of baseball during a game; bad throws, poor field positioning, dropping the ball, not paying attention. These are common place in little league. As I have stressed from the beginning, you are a part of a team. We win as a team and we lose as a team, each player has a role they play.

My approach to the game has not changed from opening day, I play and rotate the boys based on equal playing time to all players. While some parents and coaches might have an issue with this, it has not been brought to my attention through 8 games. I don’t favor my strong players every inning of every game and by no means do I intentionally play anyone the minimum of 2 innings and 1 at-bat. That screams incompetence of a coach who is just there to win, regardless of the kids.

If the decision was made to stick with our ace pitchers yesterday, chances were great we would have won the game, but would have been short on pitching come Monday. This also left of a run behind at the end of the 5th inning, when the game was called due to time limit resulting in another loss, but just how much does a loss or win really matter in little league? I do however, believe the boys were taught an important lesson during the game.

From the first inning we jumped out to a 5 run lead, the kids were excited, hustling up to the plate, running the bases well and playing good defense. Everything seemed to be going our and way and as more runs crossed the plate, I was continually asked the score. My response stayed consistent the entire game, “I don’t know the score, as it’s not important, hitting and playing defense is important.” The boys were were all smiles as our lead grew over the Red Sox to the point of goofing off in the dugout when we were at bat.

Their focus was lost, the “fun” had resulted in a few strike outs and two outstanding defensive gems from the opposing team that seemed to smack out team back to reality. Our best player hit the hardest ball of the year a line drive, which was snared by the shortstop, he couldn’t have been but 2-3 steps out of the batter’s box as he came back to the dugout in tears. As I made my way to him, I put my arm around him and inquired what was wrong? He believed the shortstop had not caught the ball and he was wrongly called out. Not sure if my words were convincing, but by heart was in the right place. Yet after our talk, with his father standing on the other side of the dugout, he seemed to have a different swagger when he took the field next inning.

The collapse of our team was complete by the 4th inning. By that time I had banned any further eating of sunflower seeds in the dugout and put an end to the grab ass (aka fun) that was going on in the dug out. Complacency had overcome our team and it was showing on the field. We were able to take the leading, but lack of focus and being prepared when the ball was hit led us giving up the lead and eventually losing in the 5th inning when the Red Sox scored their last run after 3 throwing errors on the same play.

In the words of Vincent Fortanasce, M.D., “These children are not professional ballplayers and Little League is not about winning baseball game. Little League is about fun and growth and learning life’s important lessons.” We were taught what happens can happen when we lose focus and get complacent in a game. It was a tough lesson to learn, as the jubilation and excitement on the team was priceless.

As I explained to them in my post game talk, we were pleased with how they played, we hit the ball well, score runs and made some great plays in the field, unfortunately we had made some mistakes. One of the coaches expanded on this asking each player, “What mistake did you make?” It was interesting to see hands go up and hear some of their responses. A few players had no answer, but no one said, “I didn’t do anything wrong.” I continued to stress learning baseball at this age is more important than winning. I highlighted our positives and said we would continue to work on areas which need improvement.

While I feel bad for the boys, who nearly earned their first victory of the season, they continue to grow and make improvements in their game. With continued coaching, drills and positive reinforcement and encouragement the players will continue to improve.

210 Days Until…

halloween-hauntLast year was the first year I organized The 6th Fright Halloween haunt at my son’s elementary school. Previously I had only helped out building and running the haunt, but decided to take on the responsibility after hearing there would be no haunt for the kids if it wasn’t build last year. What is a Harvest Carnival without a haunted house? It would have not been the same sort of carnival and I think many kids would have been let down.

It’s only the start of April, but not too early to start revising the layout I drew up after last year’s haunted house and begin building props to fill the haunt. The goal for 2014, make it better and scarier (Ms. Chadd really loves to be scared). The most important part of any haunt (after safety, of course) is the layout, which I have been working on since October. While the haunt won’t be as long, it could potentially be more involved this year with better use of space and props. Yet for any haunt to be successful requires volunteers. Unfortunately, beyond the PTA board members, volunteers are few and far between. Although I have been recruiting a few dads I know to give me some of their time come August and September, in order to be ready for October.

Learning from last year, preparation is key, something Mark and I lacked last year, as was evident by the amount of time and work during the days leading up to the Friday haunt. Still, everyone who walked the haunt enjoyed it, in my opinion it was the best one I had seen in 3 years, taking nothing away from the people who came before me and provided their time and effort in order to put smiles on the faces of people who went through the haunted house.

I won’t give much away too much at this early point, as I know there are friends who favor Facebook and I want many of the haunts to be just that, haunting to those who walk The 6th Fright. I will say I am bringing back one room from last year, but everything else for the 2014 haunt will be new.

A change for this year will be including some plywood walls in a few areas of the haunt because PVC and viqsueen won’t handle the load or stress planned on those areas. Unlike last year, I don’t expect to spend 2 weeks building the layout and hanging visqueen, something that should be able to be accomplished in a week. While I have haven’t started laying out any PVC at this point, I will be building each section in my front yard in order to decrease the build time when we are allowed to access the stage, which should be in early October.

Props, given enough time, anything can be built. I am already looking at a handful of props that are pennies on the dollar compared to their retail counterparts at retail establishments like Party City and Spirit. Thanks to input and suggestions from the Halloween Forum, I have been spending time watching videos on different props and ideas for The 6th Fright. In addition to the haunt itself, my neighbor just replaced his backyard fence, I was lucky enough to score about 50 feet of weather planks, which will be turned into a facade for the entrance.

I know we have approximately 7 months until the school’s harvest carnival, but it’s not too early to start. I continue to talk up the haunt when at PTA meetings, knowing full well we need to finish out this school year and the events the school is hosting. Still the advanced planning will improve this haunt for 2014. With any luck it will be better documented than last year.

Undefeated in Fun

lifelessons_After early setbacks, some frustration and numerous emails to “Big Al” Price of Big Al Baseball, I stumbled across another resource while searching the Internet, the book Life Lessons From Little League by Vincent M. Fortanasce, M.D. I believe in the philosophy of Big Al when it comes to teaching youngsters the game of baseball. As with each new season, expectations run high, from players and parents to coaches, who practice consistency to get ready for the start of the season. Yesterday we continued our streak of being undefeated in fun.

While our 0-6 record doesn’t reflect how well the boys on the East County Little League AA Braves have been playing, the coaching staff still believes that practice and positive reinforcement will yield results. Those results might not include a victory during the 18 game season, but when it comes to the fun, these boys know no boundaries. In the end, isn’t that was little league is all about? As a kid, you won’t remember when you struck out 3 times, but you might remember your coaches or teammates you shared the season with.

Those individuals not affiliated with the Braves or ECLL, have lived vicariously through our winless stretch, but the season is far from over and in my eyes not lost. Thankfully we have 15 games in which to improve, as we are the #1 seed when the playoffs starts, a fact I have not mentioned to the team. Frustration has crept in at times during games, especially knowing how well the boys practice during the week. They are a hitting machine, all 12 of them but when game time rolls around you would think they are swinging a wet noodle. On defense their gloves seem to disappear and we look more like the Bad News Bears.

Their performance during games has the coaching staff baffled, questioning our practice structure and leaves us asking each other, “What else do we do?” From the pages of Big Al Baseball, stress repetition in order to gain confidence and consistency at bat or in the field. Another factor Big Al promotes, keep practice fun and positive. We have been able to turn many of the drills into a competition for the boys, seeing who can accumulate the most points. We have also played a game called Bubba Baseball using an over-sized plastic bat and pickle ball in order to promote fun, at the same time teaching strategy and the basics of baseball.

Yesterday was a feelgood day, even though we lost, again playing only three and a half innings with the game being called because of the 10-run rule, but I ran into a parent while hanging out at the snack shack. She doesn’t have a son that I manage, but she talked to a player on my team. When she inquired, “how’d you guys do today” the player responded, “we lost again.” She countered with, “wish you were playing on the Dodgers and winning?” To my surprise he said, “no I am having fun with my team.” As a manager that made my heart swell and I felt like I was on cloud nine for a moment! To hear that coming from a player is reward enough that we are not only teach players the basics of baseball, but more importantly keeping it fun.

Kids have enough stress on them, even at 8 and 9 years old. Why add to that stress level by yelling and criticizing their performance, acts which could inevitably turns kids off from continue to play little league. I have Big Al to thank for the basics of managing and coaching young kids. I stumbled across another resource while searching the Internet last week, the book Life Lessons From Little League by Vincent M. Fortanasce, which has provided me a very positive outlook on managing kids and controlling parents while their son learns baseball. The book has had a very positive influence on me in under a week since I started reading.

On Friday I had an assistant coach saying, “I don’t know how you stay to calm and positive through this.” The last 2 games have been different than the first 4 games. In order to build a player, you need to instill courage, character and loyalty, which is the motto of Little League. I want to keep a positive attitude towards all the players, all the time, even if the result is something negative, such as an error in the field or striking out. Tearing a child down with negativity or criticism has no place on my team. Positive reinforcement and keeping the game fun will have players trying harder.

The way I see it still, we have another 13 games in order to improve offensively and defensively. Sure we have seen 5 out of 6 games ended early because of the 10-run rule, but there is no reason why we can’t compete with any of the teams we have played in our division. As long as we continue to practice and improve I have no doubts we could win the playoffs. Our boys might not be the biggest, fastest, best kids in the league, but they are all playing with a big heart. All of them have improved their skills since we started practice in February. We have seen flashes of what they can do. Winning isn’t everything or the only thing, nor does winning breed success. The fundamental of little league is to stay positive against all odds and have fun.