Quest For 100

On October 31, 2016 I celebrated my 5th anniversary of living plant based. It’s been an amazing journey, which has featured extreme highs and success, but more recently had featured lows, dominating my life. While I haven’t been 100% PD (Protective Diet) compliant, I still follow the basic principles laid out by Dr. John McDougall; no meat, no dairy and no added oil. This was the basis ofgoing plant based I followed when I made the decision to change my lifestyle after reading his book.. The benefits for me have been nothing short of incredible. Yet what works for me, might not benefit others the same.

The last 12-18 months I found my plant based lifestyle trending the wrong way. It was a cheat day here, 5 pounds there, another few pounds there but didn’t worry much about it. Then it became, “damn, why are my pants so tight?” only to realize I have returned to being a vegan junkie, forgetting the basics of plant based, whole foods, while favoring processed or fast food (no meat and dairy) as a quick fix to my hunger. Looking in the mirror I can see where that has lead me.

Now at 200 pounds, I have gained by near 20 pounds over the last 2 years or so. I realized that 175 pounds was nice, it was just not possible to maintain. It was 180-185 pounds that seemed ideal. Running and lifting weights played into a slim and more muscular me, but little by little the running and weights fell by the wayside. The results, again can be seen in the mirror.

Thankfully there are many inspiration people around me, some I work with others I know from running. Through discussion with them, I realize if I continue to do nothing, my health and lack of activity will continue to suffer. With the help of two co-workers I have decided to get that positive mindset and work towards a goal.

Goals, since starting this lifestyle have helped me benefit, achieving small victories along the way before crossing the finish line. Yet, this lifestyle isn’t a race, there is no finish line, as I continue to learn every day, thanks to wonderful people like Julie Marie and Jerry Christensen, who promote a healthy, active “protective” lifestyle. I’ve also got a co-worker, Aaron, who just underwent surgery, but is back running, exercising and improving his health. He’s got bold plans to run every race that Brazen Racing offers (15 in all), in order to labelled a “Brazen Streaker” and be guaranteed his personal number for every race.

Down south in Merced, I met Ofie at the Razorback Endurance Race a few years back and we have became friends, seeing other from time to time at different races, but this woman is amazingly fit. From rock climbing and cycling to running and paddle boarding, there isn’t an activity she doesn’t do! Finally my American River running partner, Brian, while we have only run those two races together, without him and his support I don’t believe I could have finished. Always a positive outlook on life and during our races, he has spurred me to our latest challenge, which will be termed “crazy” by many.

Just 3 years ago, April 19, 2015 I ran my first ultra marathon on Mt. Diablo. It was also the first time I experienced a “runner’s high” that left me with the desire to run even longer distances. While I was sore and left barely able to walk, I was yearning for something more. The following two years I participated in the American River 50 Mile Endurance Race from Folsom to Auburn, finishing 13:52 the first year and improving my time by :12 minutes the following year. This year, due to my schedule, the unavailability of my running partner and a lack of drive (but not desire) I missed the AR50. We also missed the Razorback Endurance Race, which took place last weekend but we look forward to our goal.

Next year, nearly 48 weeks away I will run my first 100 mile race. Now 48 weeks seems to be a long time, one in which you could easily say, “I’ll start next week” only to find out you are less than a few months away from race day and you have yet to train. That won’t happen this time around. Once the sign up rolls around, I will commit, in order to have that goal on paper.

While I don’t have a full training schedule built, the first 12 weeks will set the tone for the rest of the training. During this time I will build a proper base on which to run, the goal, getting up to 90 minutes of running as soon as possible. The running schedule will have me running 4 times a week for the first 12 weeks. Just like when I started running it will be short, :30 minute runs as I build up to :90 minutes before moving on to a longer duration or distance. Even now I know I could run a 3-6 miles with no problems, but don’t want to do too much, too soon and cause an injury or other setback.

As with all activity, fuel becomes very important. While I already follow a plant based lifestyle, it will be a Protective Diet, where I feed my hunger. Julie has an amazing array or foods, which taste good and are simple to create. Last night, I got started a day early by making Shanghai Cucumbers and Spicy Asian Noodle Salad. Clean, simple and full of flavor! No more grabbing food while at work or when on the run at a fast food restaurant. Some advanced planning and constant set up will help me achieve my goals.

In conjunction with the running and eating, I am plan on getting back into the Stronglifts 5×5 program to build lean music and lose fat. I found this by mistake a few years back, but the results were proven, lifting weight I never thought possible! The feeling of strength is unparalleled!

I have also starting IF or intermittent fasting using James Clears’ beginner’s guide. This is not the first time I have experimented with IF, learning about it back in April, 2013 (Read IF). Basically you have a “feeding window” of 8 hours, in which you consume all your calories. The next 16 hours you go without food. My feeding windows is between 11:00 AM and 7:00 PM. I know this goes against what a Protective Diet teaches, but I have found the results to be beneficial in my training, especially when it comes to the running. “Interesting enough I could feel a big difference when I ran 4 miles. It felt better to run on an “empty” stomach rather than one that had food in from lunch or breakfast” (Read IF-fy).

While the race director hasn’t set a 2018 date for the Razorback Endurance Race, it appears it will take place the end of May, as some runners voiced concerned about a potential conflict with the AR50. As soon as a tentative date is set, I will be able to update my training plan.

Approximately 24 weeks into training, I am planning on picking a 50k or 50 mile race to see where I stand before starting the 100 mile training. Thankfully I have an awesome trainer, Michael, who acted as my AR50 pacer last year, who pushed me over the finish line in record time. He has been contacted to provide input and feedback to my training plan. Currently, he’s in the midst of his own, personal training as he looks forward to the Tahoe 100 on July 14. He is a valuable resource of information and strategy as I look ahead to what the future holds.

It’s all in the mindset. Having already achieved some amazing feats, I am excited at the prospects and what the future holds. No more excuses! It’s time to test the limits and see just how far I can push my body. Running 100 miles will be unlike any else I have ever attempted. With a positive attitude, strong conviction and support of others, nothing will prevent me from crossing that finish line.

3-3-3’s: 2016 AR50

333Finishing a 50 mile race is unlike any other experience I have ever had. It’s amazing to see what your body can do, just how and hard you can push and achieve a result. I am still astonished at my improvement on my finish time at the American River 50 Mile Endurance Race, 13:40 over last year’s result with a 12 minute improvement. Like many ultra runners, I was sore, fatigued, blisters were forming on my feet, my butt was chaffed (no, I didn’t bring my Glide), muscles were tightening, yet through it all I was able to push myself and run the fastest I did that day crossing the finishing line.

Talking to Michael L., our pacer this year for the race, he bought attention to another ultra friend of his, who includes a unique piece in her write ups at the conclusion of each race. I must give credit to The Running Pen , who provides three extra sections in her race assessment, called ‘The 3-3-3’s’:

  • Three things I did right
  • Three things that didn’t go well
  • Three things I could improve on

Usually as I recall race day I will usually tangent off on different aspects of the race, such as fueling and hydration, split chart or shoes. This year I hit a few of these as I attempted to recall just what really happened that day. Even now, I draw a blank on Granite Bay. Did it really happen? You can read my 50 mile experience, Adventures in Running: 2015 American River 50. So without further ado, here’s my version of ‘The 3-3-3’s.

Three Things I Did Right

  1. Prepared a split chart for the second year, based off last year. Thankfully Michael tweaked our plan to slow our pace down to a 16 min/mile for the first 24.31 miles up to Beal’s Point) in order to save our legs for the remainder of the race, which truly begins at mile 31 and the Meat Grinder
  2. Unlike past years and past races, I decided to drink the “HOKA Kool-Aid” and purchased two pairs. For the first half of the race, which was dominated by hard surfaces I ran in the HOKA Constant 2. It was a nice shoe to run, provided my feet a bit of extra comfort and had minimal foot pain, which I experienced a few weeks prior during our 6-hour endurance run at Razorback. On the trails it was the HOKA Stinson 3 ATR with a much meatier sole, wore different than the road shoe and seemingly kept my feet fresh for the second part of the race, which was nearly all trail running.
  3. This was the first race using a pacer, which was a godsend pulling into Beal’s Point, seeing and hearing Michael encouraging us up to fuel up and get out of the checkpoint. His insight and information, while not valuable for this race will be points to consider in my next 50 mile attempt. Unfortunately, I didn’t run with him much as he dropped back to take care of Brian, N. and the heat exhaustion he was battling. But 7 hours later I would welcome him back as he picked me up for the last 3 grueling miles of the race, keeping my spirits up and remaining positive in order to help me finish. He also took a video of me crossing the finish line, a moment I will always cherish.

Three Things That Didn’t Go Well

  1. It probably doesn’t even need to be said that you need to run in order to break in new shoes. The HOKA Constant 2 were a comfortable shoe, while I didn’t run in during the 6-hour endurance race, I was wearing them regularly in order to “break them in.” That alone wasn’t enough, as hot spots developed by mile 20, turning into blisters that caused discomfort for the rest of the day.
  2. Fueling continues to be challenging. Last year I attempted to remain “PD compliant” (no meat, cheese or dairy, added oil, sugar or additives) during my run. Unfortunately I failed early on, using dates (natural sugar) in the bars I made. This year I basically said, “f#ck it” I need to fuel with what will help me cross that finish line. Honestly, I didn’t put much thought into my fueling. I picked up some chia bars, Larabars and chews for fuel between aid stations. On the hydration side, I dropped fresh Nuun Hydration tablets in my bladder through out the day. The worst offending item, a veggie burrito from Chipotle when I made it to Beal’s Point. Probably 15oo calories in this burrito, but damn! This was the best burrito I have ever. However I expended a consider amount of energy chewing and digesting, which has me rethinking how I fuel next race.
  3. Brian and I have now run 4 races together, two 50K and two 50 mile, we run well together, similar ability and pace but we are able to push each other to keep going when the going get’s tough. We knew it was going to be warm during the race and the heat was a concern. By Beal’s Point (mile 24.31) Brian was struggling with the heat, as the day warmed, his pace diminished. Before long I saw him losing distance behind me. This left me as a solo runner with no one to run with for nearly 23 miles! Missing from my race was the camaraderie, know we had each others back, continually pushing each other to the next aid station. Mentally, I was strong but had to focus much more when our pacer told me to go on without him, as he went to support Brian. I never saw Brian until I approached the finish line.

Three Things I Could Improve On

  1. Stick to the plan, man! Discussing our split chart, we knew we were going to be running hot for much of the first 24.31 miles. We were set up with a 16 min/mile pace. That folks is a walking pace, fairly brisk, but nothing that could not be achieved, even if you are head up an incline. At one point early on we were nearly 2:30 ahead of our planned pace, which would provide time on the back end of the race, but would also see us expending more energy during the first half. We slowed, realistically we could have walked the entire first 24.31 miles and still had time to finish.
  2. My training leading up to AR50 was terrible, almost non-existant. I had maybe 2-3 training runs and one 12-hour endurance race, which saw some terrible rainy and cold weather, we decided to drop to the 6-hour time limit. Aside from that I can’t make any excuses, I didn’t train enough. Then again, do you ever train enough for an event? Add some quality training and a few long runs and I believe finishing around 12 hours would be a reality.
  3. Fueling and hydration go hand in hand with what I didn’t do well. Next year I will take some of Michael’s advice and look at using bottles versus a bladder, carrying two water bottles on my hydration vest and a 22 oz. bottle in hand filled with electrolytes. This will allow for a known amount of calories (250) per hour or between aid stations. Easier to fill than a bladder when a volunteer helps out to fill it. Never been one for using a handheld, I do when I run shorter distances, just to get comfortable running with it in my hand.

All in all I was pleased with my performance this year at the AR50. There is something special, almost magical about this course. No matter how you look at it, the day is long, physically challenging and mentally draining. But I cannot wait to take what I learned this year, apply it to next year and see a new PR when I cross the finish line.

Adventures in Running: 2016 American River 50

ar50mapLooking back on the 2016 American River 50 Mile Endurance Race, it’s a swell of emotion that overcomes me. For the second consecutive year Brian N. and I have toed the starting line, in what many consider “crazy?!?” running 50 miles. The question that follows, “Why?” My answer, because I can. There was a point in life where running was something I disliked, from youth sports to high school and into college, I did not like conditioning days. It wasn’t until I started eating right in October, 2011, thanks to Forks Over Knives, a Protective Diet and exercise, taking up running near the end of 2012, with my training culminating in finishing my first race, a half marathon in 1:58, of March the following year.

From couch to half marathon, I had conquered something new and felt great crossing the finish line under 2 hours to the cheering of my friend and his wife, earning my first finisher’s medal. The next year it would be my first ultra marathon, jumping into a the Diablo Trails Challenge, a 50k on Mount Diablo. Finishing this race in 8:53 I experienced my first “runner’s high” yearning to run longer distances. The feeling was unbelievable, unlike anything I had every experienced in life. For a few weeks I felt as if I was on cloud nine.

ar2016_startLast year, my first running of the AR50, an experience I will forever cherish, crossing the finish in 13:52:55, less than 8 minutes from the time limit. It was an accomplishment I never expected, but mentally, was prepared for the highs and lows through out the day. Memories of last year came pouring in as I ran various sections of the course with relentless forward progress towards my ultimate goal, the finish line.

Prior to Saturday, April 2 I had organized my running clothes, shoes and Nathan VaporAir Hydration Pack containing snacks and other necessities in preparation for race day. The alarm rang at 1:30AM, but it was a very restless night’s sleep with anticipation as my bed mate. As my day began memories of last year started coming back; the early morning, the cold and wind, starting arch, the journey ahead and not really knowing what to expect. After an uneventful drive to the finish line at American River Overlook Park, I collected my gear and headed for the shuttle back to the starting line.

 

2016_splitsExiting the shuttle I quickly made contact with Brian and Michael L., our pacer for the day, as we waited out the last hour in his vehicle before we made our way to the starting line. Michael was instrumental in our run, as he took our split chart from last year, made a few adjustments and asked for our input. The result was a rock solid plan Brian and I felt comfortable with. Sticking to the plan would see us cross the finish in 13:27, more than 26 minutes ahead of where I finished last year. Realistically, the only times that mattered were the cutoff times at selected checkpoints and the overall total time of 14 hours.

st135852-02-321Our plan for the first half of the race was to set a 16 min/mile pace, that’s a walking pace. We could have literally walked 24.31 miles to Beal’s Point and started our race from that aid staion. Needless to say it didn’t quite work out that way. While we didn’t go out fast, we did stick to our 4:1 ratio (run/walk), which worked well for approximately 22 miles, up to the final climb up to Beal’s Point. Yet our split times, based on Garmin show only 3 miles in excess of 16 minutes with many miles between 13-15 minutes. This allowed “extra” time on the back end of the course, which was more challenging being trail based, as opposed to most of the first 24 miles being hard surfaces. No matter how you split the course up or broke it down, we were in for a very long day but with a good plan in place we felt ready.

Avoiding injury was key in both our minds, as I picked up a sharp, shooting pain in my right knee last year about mile 12, while Brian twisted an ankle around mile 20. Carrying those monkeys on our backs, we hoped to remain strong through the first half of the race, with the “Meat Grinder” weighing heavily on our minds. What’s the Meat Grinder? Brian at Dashing Dad explains, “The next 9 miles were rough. Not only was it the longest stretch without support, it was going to run through the notorious “Meat Grinder.” The Meat Grinder started around mile 31…and is about 5 miles of steep climbs, steep drops, with lots of rocks, roots, and loose sand.” It’s not all that technical, but you must throw caution to the wind when you run this section or it could be your downfall, as it was for us last year.

ar50_smiles1Through the first 4.97 miles to Folsom Point we were 14 minutes ahead of our planned split, which was to be expected as it was the start of the race with adrenaline racing through the veins. Feeling good, it was a very quick stop; a salt tablet and PB&J and were on the go to Willow Creek, 7.80 miles away, the second longest leg of the day. This was a long stretch running on sidewalks, pavement and bike trails for much of this leg. Bicyclists became more prevalent as made the turn off Folsom Lake Crossing onto the American River Bike Trail. Much like last year, it was a challenge to remain focused, while avoiding bicyclists of varying skills. Some were downright rude, bombing down the bike trail at high speed, while others were courtesy, calling out, “Back!” or “Left!” as they approached.

As we pulled into Willow Creek at 8:52AM, we were 31 minutes ahead of our planned split. With Michael tracking our progress, we received a text message just out of the aid station, “Might want to throttle back a little.” We were on a 13:30 min/mile pace, nearly 2:30 minutes faster than our plan. Our target pace remained a relaxed 16 min/mile pace, which meant more walking, in order to save our legs for the second half of the race. We were fine with that pulling 14:30 to 15:30 minute miles as we made our way towards Sacramento State Aquatic Center and the climb up to the next aid station, Main Bar.

ar50_brianThe course transitioned from road to trail just prior to 10AM for us, as the day began to warm. Brian had made note of the forecast temperatures being in the mid 70s for the race, which was a bit of a concern. If there is one challenge that is difficult to overcome, it’s the heat. Keeping your core cool and staying hydrated are key to combating the heat. I felt more prepared for the heat, based solely on running in 80-90 degree temperatures at home for training, a bit different than Brian putting in quality miles in the cooler climate of Daly City. This would be the biggest challenge of the day, as the temperatures continued to climb the deeper we progressed into the race.

The aid station at Main Bar saw us 32 minutes ahead of our plan as we refueled and hydrated, attempting to get some relief from the rising temperatures. Last year I concentrated on my fuel, bringing my own chia energy bars and dates to keep the energy level high, with water as my main source of hydration. At aid stations, I keyed on boiled red potatoes and bananas and more water. After 25 miles of eating the same foods and drinking the same fluid, I yearned for something more, more substance, more flavor and appetizing. So it really was no surprise when we hit the aid station at mile 38.14 I grabbed a handful of red licorice and continued on.

A key component to finishing this race is the ability to stay hydrated and fueled so you don’t bonk, “a condition caused by the depletion of glycogen stores in the liver and muscles, which manifests itself by sudden fatigue and loss of energy.” No runner wants to bonk, but if you mismanage your intake, bonking could be detrimental to finishing. Last year I put lots of thought into what I wanted to carry in my pack and eat at aid stations and drink. While I didn’t bonk, I quickly tired of the snacks and more importantly I yearned for something more than water.

ar50_sceneryThis year I changed my approach to some degree, bringing chia energy bars and dates with me. For my water I decided to supplement with Nuun Hydration tablets (watermelon and lemon-lime) to keep the electrolytes up. At checkpoints I gave myself a bit of leeway this year going with quartered PB&J sandwiches and an assorted array of liquids to keep things fresh. Discussing hydration and fuel with Michael out of Beal’s Point, he suggested going with bottles as opposed to a bladder. He carried two bottles of water on him and a 22 oz. handheld filled with electrolytes, which could be refilled at all the aid station. This way he know exactly how many calories he was receiving from the handheld and could supplement with snacks at the aid stations. Fueling and hydration were better this year, but I can foresee changes I want to implement next year.

While I wasn’t particularly happy with my food and drink choices, the variety I experienced over 50 miles was a nice change of pace compared to last year. Water, while necessary was also my downfall, as I didn’t use ice and didn’t drink enough after leaving Horseshoe Bar. Water tasted terrible and by mistake I picked up a small cup of Sprite, which was a real shot in the arm after drinking warmish, non-flavored water.

ar50_usBetween Main Bar and Negro Bar, 3.20 miles, we paralleled the American River Bike Trail on a single track. Temperatures were creeping into the low 70s and the heat was starting to take effect. Our min/mile times were still very good, averaging 15 minutes, still ahead of our split plan. Approaching Negro Bar, at a walking pace I hit Michael with a text, “Probably in the neighborhood bar in about five minutes.” With a good laugh I corrected the text to read, “Pulling into Negro in about five minutes” not the neighborhood bar. Although a beer right about now would have hit the spot! We passed mile 20.18 as we arrived into the aid station, but had lost some time climbing out, now just 24 minutes ahead of plan. Into Beal’s Point we were told, “the climb up to BP will slow you down a bit as well.” By this time, Michael was at Beal’s Point waiting for us to arrive with our drop bag in hand.

Out of Negro Bar in a flash, cooled off and refueled, we felt good as it was just 5.14 miles to Beal’s Point. It would also be one of two climbs during the race before being rewarded seeing Michael. We had transitioned back to pavement on the American River Bike Trail, with many riders, some slow rolling hills. By this time our 4:1 ratio was out the door and we had slowed our pace to a walk. Knowing we we going to be ahead of schedule into Beal’s Point we attempted to conserve energy for the race that began a few miles out of Granite Bay, with the Meat Grinder. The climb ended back where it began at Folsom Lake Crossing, passing Folsom Prison, each step zapping more and more energy as the sun was nearly overhead.

st135852-06-915Brian was beginning to really struggle with the heat, I recall asking about 3/10ths of a mile from Beal’s Point if he wanted to run it…ended up being the last 1/10th we ran, as it was downhill. Good call! No reason to expend more energy when we arrived at the entrance to Beal’s Point. It was a welcomed sight to see smiling faces and people cheering every runner coming down the hill through the arch. We were pleased with our progress and time through 24.31 miles arriving at the aid station in 6:03 at 12:03PM, this put us 30 minutes ahead of what Michael had planned.

Last year I was all about Luna Sandals, but after a year long battle with pain in my feet, I made a change in footwear. Talking to Tracy of WCTR and Shrina Z. at Razorback Endurance Race in March, both who experienced feet issues, swore HOKA was the answer. Brian had been on me for a while to “drink the Kool-Aid!” and go HOKA. About 4 weeks before the race I went shoe shopping, purchased not one, but two pairs of HOKA, for street and trail. Overall, I was very pleased with the performance and comfort they provided over 50 miles. I did however pick up 4 blisters on my feet before reaching Beal’s Point, but the discomfort was not enough to stop me.

ar50_bealsptFor me, I changed shoes discarding my HOKA Constant 2 (street) for the HOKA Stinson 3 ATR, the trail shoe, as all but 3 miles were to be run on trails. The change did my feet well, as I had developed 4 blisters on my feet. The blisters on the inside of my left heel and on my right little toe were the most bothersome. The change in shoes took some of the pressure off these hot spots and my feet felt fresh. My planning had me changing socks, but I didn’t even want to bother or doctor the blisters, I would deal with it.

My motivation for getting to Beal’s Point this year, a Chipotle veggie burrito with brown rice, black beans, lettuce and tomato salsa. I know, I know (directed to the PD crowd) not the best food to refuel with, but DAMN! It hit the spot! It was a great motivator and while not oil free, high in sodium, I needed the calories. Did I mention it tasted AMAZING?! Come to find out I expended more energy chewing and digesting this burrito, which could have been conserved for the rest of the course but for this race it worked for me. While walking out the aid station, we discussed fueling and hydration to some length, a point I have already touched on. Next year, I will readdress what I fuel with and how I plan to hydrate. Soft, more palatable foods that you can squeeze out of a small bottle would allow me the necessary calories while expending less energy to eat.

ar50_lakeWith Beal’s Point and the burrito behind us, we looked forward to what was to come. Our Achilles heal least year, the Meat Grinder but the next 5.14 miles were quite uneventful, as we followed Michael, who set the pace. After all, this is why we asked him to pace us. The noon day sun was beat down hard, thankfully living in Oakley, running in warm weather I was accustomed to heat that does nothing but drains your energy. I was feeling good a few miles outside of Granite Bay, still had a smile on my face and in some warped way was still having fun.

The run from Granite Bay to Horseshoe Bar was the longest segment of the race at 8.69 miles. For us it occurred at the warmest time of the day as well, which didn’t bode well for Brian, who struggled into the aid station, but still desiring to finish the race after falling just 9 miles short the year before. I remember Granite Bay because a volunteer too my hat off and dunked it in the cold water. I didn’t get their name, but this really went a long way. Just another reason why those individuals who take time out of their day to make ours happen, goes a long way.

Refueled, cooled off we were back on our way after 29 miles. Michael led us out of the aid station and the trail turned single track. I was continually looking behind me, sensing Brian was falling further and further off the pace. About a mile from the start of the Meat Grinder, Michael slowed, I caught him but the heat had consumed Brian. Michael doubled back to check on Brian’s condition. That was the last I saw of them, as Michael told me to continue. I recall sending a text at 1:37PM, “Just started the meat grinder” but never got a response. It would about about two and a half hours later at 3:51PM we had an exchange:

Me: How’s it going

Michael: 2M from HB (2 miles from Horseshoe Bar)

Michael: B is very light headed from the heat.

Michael: Slow walking pace. You?

Me: Leaving HB (Horseshoe Bar)

ar50_meatgrinderJust 2 miles out of  the aid station I saw the welcome sign of the Meat Grinder. This section of the course isn’t difficult per se, but can be technical in areas. The loose rocks, exposed roots, soft sand and narrow trail made for a challenging section of this 50 mile race. Last year, after sustaining injuries, we walked nearly all of the Meat Grinder. This year was going to be different, after saving our legs for the second half of the race, this is where the race really started for me. By this time I could feel all sorts of hot spots on my feet, blisters had formed.

By this time I was running by myself, not knowing the fate of Brian and Michael I could only hope I would receive a positive text from them. I maintained a good 15 minute pace for the first half of the Meat Grinder, but things slowed considerably when I hit mile 35 and I slowed. The next 3 miles were the longest of the day. Through the soft sand, up and down hills, climbing up rocks and being cautious on the descents on narrow trails with exposed roots. During this section of he course I saw people exhausted from the heat, many walking and others dry heaving. Even though I was tired I felt good and as Michael predicted, I was passing quite a few runners, most unintentionally. I was running my race, walking the hills and most of the flat trails, while putting in a good downhill pace on the descents.

Pleased with my progress through the Meat Grinder I continue to forge forward, while the pace had slowed, I would arrive at Horseshoe Bar at 3:47PM, 29 minutes ahead of plan! It was a welcome sight to hear the activity at the aid station and see the volunteers so welcoming.

This was the BEST aid station of the entire race! It was also the second time during the race I would see Fleet Feet employee and friend, Ellisa C. She passed Brian and I about mile 12, we had a quick exchange and she continued on. At the aid station she had picked up her husband, Nick who would pace her through to the finish. I was surprised I had caught her, as she looked strong when she passed us hours back, but some issues and her pace slowed. We exchanged words and a some high fives and I was then taken care of by a volunteer.

ar50_smiles2If there is one volunteer who went above and beyond, it John B. (thanks to Ellisa for his name) who met me upon arrival at Horseshoe Bar. Ellisa was saying good bye to him, telling him to take good care of me, which he did. I unsnapped my hydration pack, which he took, refilled with new water and added some Nuun tablets too. Not to waste too much time in the aid station I grabbed some PB&J sandwiches, another salt tablet and had some soda. Again, not the drink of choice (especially for PD’ers) but damn it tasted good! Walking back over to John, he helped me into my hydration pack, then took my handkerchief, untied it from my neck and dunked it in cool water for me, retying it around me neck. Small actions, such as these after some 10 hours really made me feel good. Words can’t express the gratitude I had for him and all the other volunteers.

It was only 2.80 miles to Rattlesnake Bar and the final checkpoint with a cutoff time of 5:15PM. Unlike last year there was no doubt I would make the checkpoint comfortably. Like most of the Meat Grinder, I continued to pass other runners at my pace, which had slow considerably. The trails were nice, “slow rollers” as we were told last year out of Horseshoe Bar.

IMG_1180The descent into and climb out of Rattlesnake was an emotional one for me, nearly tearing up as all runners were welcomed into and back out of the aid station. It was quite an emotional lift seeing the smiles and hearing the cheering from people lining the trail to Rattlesnake Bar. Last year, it was Amer B. who greeted me with open arms, warm smile and encouraging words that set the tone for the final 9 miles. This year it was the crowd that gathered. Wasting no time, I topped off my pack for the remainder of the race, grabbed a handful of snacks and I got back onto the trail. Leaving the aid station I was still 9 minutes ahead of our plan with the possibility of finishing by 7:29PM.

 The sun was slowly setting in the west and the rest of the run would be in the cool afternoon along the American River, which was much more wild this year as opposed to last. As I established myself on the trail I caught up with two women and an Asian man, running his first 50 mile race. The ladies “chatting it up” set a good pace for the next 5 miles, which saw the predicted 20-22 min/mile up and down this tight single track.

Some 11 hours in and the day was taking it’s toll on my body, I could feel the intensity of the blisters with each step, developed a chaffed butt (not comfortable) and I had been dealing with a sharp, shooting pain on the top of my right foot (possibly from my shoe being tied too tight). None of this was going to prevent me from finishing. I knew leaving Rattlesnake Bar I would complete the race, it was just a matter of what time I would cross the finish. If I pushed by the pack of runners I was with I might have been able to make up a few minutes per mile, but decided I had the finish in the bag and was content to ride out the single track until we hit the bottom of Cardiac Trail, which would require me to reach deep in order to conquer.

12936589_10154078203349320_5150371691308706647_nThis was the part of the race I dreaded all day long, as you know it’s coming and you know you will be exhausted. Mentally I was prepared for the climb out of the river valley to the finish line, but I mustered every bit of energy I had remaining to keep that relentless forward progress going. Step by step I out more trail behind me, bringing me closer to Last Gap, the final aid station of the race. It was my hope I would see Michael’s smiling face as I broke out from the single track to the fire trail to start the climb. Unfortunately I was a bit dejected when I started the climb by myself.

As I crested the fire trail I could see volunteers coming out to greet runners and see how they could help. I was asked if I needed any water in my pack, to which I responded “no” and continued into the aid station. I grabbed a few cups of liquid, a PB&J and a roll out of the spaghetti and meatball cups they had and started walking out of the aid station and who should I see coming down the road…Michael!

I was speechless, I was so thrilled and relieved to see him, as he would push me the final 3 miles to the finish line. My eyes welled up a bit as we exchanged some small talk, asking how I felt and we started making our way towards the final stretch of the American River 50 Mile Endurance Race. It had been a long day, but I felt better now than I had the last 20+ miles, running solo, thoughts kept to myself with no one to really talk to, in order to take my mind off the trail and put in a “happy place.” The experience was still worth it, I would not exchange the pain and agony for anything, this close to the finish line.

Each step was seemingly a struggle, as we discussed fueling and how the run in general had gone the past 5 hours. I already knew Brian had dropped at mile 38 because of heat exhaustion, this was disappointing and frustrating, as I know how determined he was to finish after pulling himself last year at Rattlesnake Bar, mile 40.94 due to a twisted ankle. Out of Last Gasp, I was now 10 minutes late, but the math still told me I could PR if I kept my current pace, which wasn’t fast, but steady.

12932779_10154078204819320_8779957365474635510_nIt wasn’t long until I saw the big, black ‘3’ and I knew we were close. Walking back and forth across the road, pumping the arms I was determined to finish this race. Prior to getting to mile 2, Ellisa and her husband pushed  past me, looking strong making their way up the hill. We did a bit of running on some of the level portions of the road when it flattened out. My legs were fatigued, my feet hurt but I was imagining crossing the finish line strong. Michael told me to conserve what energy I had left to make the run down the chute, through the arch.

People ask me why I want to run 50 miles. This year, it took 48 miles to come up with a reasonable answer, “to make sure my first 50 mile race wasn’t a fluke.” Finishing with less than 8 minutes last year, I considered myself very lucky to cross the finish line standing. It was a struggle all day long, with emotional highs and lows. Today was no different, but being mentally prepared and having a solid plan in hand made the day easier to manage. Running from aid station to aid station, allowed us to break the race down into easy to run chunks. I really had hoped Brian would have been by my side walking up the fire road. Still 50 miles is a huge achievement and I was pleased to be on the home stretch.

st135852-08-433We passed the last big black number, “1” and I was less than 16 minutes away from the finish. By now I could start to hear the activity at the finish line, which seemingly gave me that extra push to “get it done.” About half a mile from the finish people were scattered along the side of the road, cheering, providing shouts of encouragement, which had been a big motivator all day long. We crested the final hill, we started to run down toward the gate, turning right on Pacific Avenue and into the chute for the final stretch.

This experience is what makes the entire day worth it. Off Pacific Avenue, I run across the park grass and onto the sidewalk that leads into the chute and the final hundred yards to the finish line. People were lining both sides cheering as I made my way towards the arch. People high fiving, shouting congratulations as I finally picked up the clock, 13:30:20 and counting. Michael recorded the final 40 seconds as he was pushing me down the home stretch. Where that extra boost of energy came from I won’t know, but I ran the fastest I had all day as I heard my name called as I crossed the finish line at 13:40:39 (watch the video).

12932791_10154080093494320_6724146376202833709_nI was done, physically and mentally. The day, which started at 6AM was over, my race was won and I had been handed my finisher’s jacket and medal. Michael was there by my side to congratulate me, as was Ellisa, who had finished about 15 minutes ahead of me. It was another epic race, I had set a personal record (PR) by knocking off 12 minutes off my time from the previous year. What I suddenly noticed was how difficult it was to walk, my legs were fatigued and every step I took hurt. It really made me wonder, “how did I accomplish this achievement?” It was a few minutes before I found Brian, who shook my hand and gave me a hug, telling me how proud he was, overcoming the challenges of the day and finish. It meant a lot to have a good friend and good runner say that.

Finish the American River 50 Mile Endurance Race meant more to me this year, than last year. With the exception of not training enough prior to the race, I proved to myself I was mentally and physically capable to go the distance. Even with more training, this would still be a very demanding and challenging race. Now I am the proud owner of two AR50 Patagonia jackets and look forward to 2017 and another attempt at running this course!

Run Forest!

ar50-logoTaking a break from reaming DeNova Homes for a day, I get to forgot about work, the new home and all those items on my need to do list and run 50 miles. Yeah, that’s right run…50 miles, a distance most people would only consider driving. For the second year, I will be participate in the American River 50 Miles Endurance Race, which starts at Brown’s Ravine Marina in Folsom and ends at the Auburn Dam Lookout, a course that I completed in 13:52:55, less than 8 minutes from the 14 hour time limit.

Much like last year, I come into the race, not running as much as I would have liked leading up to the start. I am sure many can lay claim to that, but mentally I am strong and I feel our strategy will pay off in the end and earn both of us a finishers medal. This year we have enrolled the services of Michael L, who will pace us from Beal’s Point (the midpoint of the race) to the finish line. Michael will be that nagging voice telling up to “man up” and “keep moving” if we want to achieve our goal.

Last year our 9:1 run/walk ratio worked well, but after participating in the 6 hour Razorback Endurance race last month, we have decreased that run time to a 4:1 ratio, in order to save our legs for the last 25 miles or more specifically the last 15 miles including the dreaded “Meat Grinder”, which literally had us walking 20+ minutes a mile through that section of the course. Up to that point we were doing well and feeling strong, well as strong as we could with Brian struggling with a twisted ankle and my experiencing sharp, shooting knee pain.

The 4:1 ratio sees us holding a 16 mile/min for the first half of the race, arriving at Beal’s Point in 6:33 (12:33 P.M.). Last year we hit this point in 5:45, but lost a considerable amount of time when we hit the infamous “Meat Grinder.” Sounds nice, huh? Injury and fatigue set in, but we were able to complete this technical portion of the course and hit the “slow rollers” up to the final aid station. Unfortunately Brian N. had to drop, as his ankle could not take any more. I continued on, struggled on the final climb, but crossed the finish with just under 8 minutes to go.

This year we will look to finish together with our pacer Michael L and shooting for a total time of 13:27. That’s 13 hours! I don’t even work that long but  I am looking very forward to getting out, relaxing, I know that sounds off and enjoying doing something I enjoy and not worrying about work, our new house or the laundry list of items I have on my STD list, or “shit to do.” Look forward to live updates through out the race on Saturday. Next report…THE FINISH LINE!

Dick Collins Firetrails 50: DNF

‘DNF’ three letters no runners wants to see when they view the results of their last race. For me, it was bound to happen and honestly I am not surprised with the struggles I faced this past Saturday when I participated with Brian N. in the Dick Collins Firetrails 50. It was my second 50 mile attempt, the first coming this past April when I ran the American River 50 Mile Endurance Race and finished 8 minutes from the 14 hour cutoff time. It was an amazing accomplishment for me to see just how far I could push my body, physically and mentally. Saturday was the same distance, but factors leading up to the race were against me. Still a ‘DNF’ is better than a ‘DNS’ (Did not start) and I was able to complete nearly 22 miles.

course_elevationStill I find it very difficult to consider myself an ultra runner, completing 3 ultra races (two 50k and one 50M), yet based on the distance I am an ultra runner. Being fast is not necessary, being consistent is important especially when it comes to the long distance running. Only having one 50 mile race under my belt made the Firetrails 50 a real challenge. Viewing the course profile, there was rarely ever level ground on this course that saw runners start at Lake Chabot and run the ridge to Tilden Park, make the turn around at mile 26 and return. A total of 50 miles with an elevation change of 7,800 feet. The elevation alone was cause for concern when I registered, but felt confident in my running abilities to “get it done.”

For Brian N. and I the day did not start off well. As we hit the first hill about 1.75 miles in Brian was experiencing ankle pain. Unlike AR50 and running on a bum ankle for 21+ miles, he pulled out of the race at mile 3.2, the first aid station and walked back to the start/finish line. I kept looking behind me for the next few miles hoping to catch sight of him, but I never saw him. I received a message on Facebook (yeah I was running while posting updates) saying, “keep going brother! i dropped im at skyline gate.” While I was disheartened to hear the news, I attempted to remained focused and continued running.

firetrails50_splitsThe split chart I created was based on each aid station and the cutoff times enforced by the race director. There was a 13 hour time limit, which was hour shorter than what we had at the AR50, a race I finished in 13:52:50 with not much time to spare, but I knew departing the final aid station (at AR) I would finish. Going into Firetrails I was concerned on where we could make up :52 minutes. The terrain and elevation were against us from the start with 7,800 feet elevation change, this race was challenging! While I wasn’t feeling confident before the race began I had no idea just how bad it was going to get.

Everything was going well through mile 10.5 when I arrived at Big Bear Gate, I was 7 minutes behind my estimated arrival time at 10:05 A.M. I was running about 6 minutes ahead of schedule up to this point. Just prior to this checkout I shared on Facebook, “9 miles in just over 2 hours not sure how far back Brian N is with ankle problem.” If I would have been a bit more coherent at this point I would have done the math in my head, maybe it was a task I was avoiding because I knew what the outcome and time wasn’t on my side. For much of first 15 miles, I based my split times on a 15 minute mile or 4 miles an hour. This was about 30 seconds shorter than what was required over the entire 50 miles in order to finish.

Problems truly began about mile 15, about 3 hours, 45 minutes into the race. As I came up the hill I saw Brian, which boosted my confidence that I could keep going, but pulled into the aid station :29 minutes behind my estimated arrival at 11:18 A.M. The last 3.5 miles had been literally been an uphill battle, one that I conquered but cost me in overall time and amount of energy expended. My feet were throbbing, lower back was aching and I was drenched in sweat as I refueled. Unlike AR, I didn’t spend much time at any of the aid stations, needing to get back out on the course as time was a factor and out of my control.

firetrails_elevationThe run to Sibley Volcanic aid station was only 3.4 miles, it was during this segment of the run I began seeing opposite direction runners. While not thinking clearly and a bit discouraged, the math wasn’t adding up and I questioned this, “how do we have runners already heading back to Lake Chabot from the turn?” It wasn’t until I slowly started the up the mile long, 600+ foot hill to Steam Trains aid station that I realized these were marathon runners, not the 50 mile runners. This was a very technical portion of the course, the footing was terrible. Not only did I need to watch every step I took, I had to keep my head up and alert for runners flying down this steep slope.

What I found interesting as I got closer to the turn around area, the volunteers (I thank them all!) were more boisterous, calling you by name and cheering you one. This meant a considerable amount as I came out of the trees and could see the aid station amd Brian N. waiting for me. I felt their energy and mustered what little I had left to finish this portion of the trail as strong as possible. By this point I wasn’t tracking my split time, I know I was well behind the curve. Talking to Brian helped, but I knew from looking at my split chart it was going to be another uphill battle to Stream Trains aid station.

At this point, it was a matter of pride, my body was barely responding and the worst was yet to come. Mile 19 cost me nearly 30 minutes and I was physically dragging. I overheard runners going the other direction say, “I remember being in his position and struggling.” That was salt in the wound for me, but I attempted to remain positive, putting one foot in front of the other. I was also envious of many of the runners who passed me coming downhill and how easy they made it look while I was doing everything I could to get to the next aid station, while sucking down fluids and eating my burritos. One day I want to be that runner, appearing to be gliding down the hills, barely breaking a sweat making this ultra running look second nature. As I glanced at my watch, I snapped back to reality and the quick math told me I had less than 30 minutes to run 4.3 miles and make the 6 hour, 16 minute cutoff.

firetrails50_overallAs I crested the hill I saw the aid station, heard my name and the cheers from volunteers, but my day was done. I unclipped my hydration pack and told the aid station lead I was dropping out after 5:49:25, 21.06 miles and 4,222 feet of elevation (View the entire run as seen in my Garmin 920xt). I was frustrated and discouraged myself, especially after my performance at American River, yet that was a very different race than Firetrails. The elevation and energy required to continually climb was something I was not prepared for. Yet going into the race I knew this. Maybe my conviction to finish was so strong I didn’t want to think otherwise and a ‘DNF’ was out of the question.

After having time to reflect on the race neither Brian or myself were ready to run this race. My running had been spotty at best leading up to Saturday and I was not able to get in a 50k training running about 3 weeks prior. Not that it would have made a world of difference, but it would have been more miles under my belt. I spoke of consistency before, which is something I did not have in my training plan. The planned I had laid out was adequate, but the reality was time was something I did not have much of, being pulled in a number of other directions that seemed to take priority over running. For me, finishing it winning. I don’t need a medal but there is something magical about crossing the finish line. That feeling will be put on hold for now.

The race aside, I felt my fuel and hydration were two aspects that were stronger than my first 50 mile run. This time around I made Unfried Black Beans, courtesy of Protective Diet and placed them in flour tortillas (not PD, sorry Julie). I had considered corn tortillas, but was never able to get them to bend and fold without breaking, so I opted for a 99% fat free flour tortilla. I also bought 10 Larabars of various nature ingredients, none that contain oil or additives, just 3 simple ingredients. The plan was to fuel every 5 miles, a burrito and bar with constant hydration. This time I decided to use Nuun tablets to help replenish my electrolytes. During AR, I got very tired of drinking water and yearned for some sort of flavor, Nuun seemed to fit the bill. I used a few different flavors and only used a few tablets over the course of my 21.06 miles.

Not quite sure when I stopped eating, but I come home with many more burritos than I had planned on, as well as a full container of mac and cheese since I never made it to the turn around at mile 26. I did like my food choices, portable, easy to eat and didn’t cause any stomach problems over the course of my day. I did supplement with a few quartered PB&J sandwiches and some cut bananas as well as a salt tablet from a few aid stations.

Overall it was a true learning experience, maybe bordering on stupid for even attempting 50 miles over such hilly terrain. I know I was not trained well enough to run hills for 13 hours, this was a tough course. Yet in the end I did the best I could and time was not on my side. While I would have loved to cross the finish line, my race was over long before it began, but went out and did what my legs and body would allow. I will make some adjustments and hopefully work up a better training schedule for my next race, which will be sometime early next year.