Saturday, June 28, 2014

Mohican 100 - A Quick Summary

That was another hard fought, tough to experience race. Reminds me of the time I had at Bighorn 100 last summer—just so happened that both races were on the same weekend this year. The only reason my time was faster at this event is because no mountains were involved! I had major issues compounded by getting lost in the middle of the night topped off with equipment failure. However, if there are character building training runs, then there are the character building races as well. Events that result in amazing experiences and hard to forget life lessons. Mohican is another one to add to my growing list. While I hate a character building anything because of the pain and work involved, I can't deny the positive changes.

The event itself was grand, the course was a playground of gorgeous tree covered single track, the stuff trail runners dreams are made of. The volunteers and staff were phenomenal and the weather cooperated. Furthermore the problems I had read about in other race reports that had plagued the race in its previous editions, over-crowded race starts and poor trail markings, was non-existent. In its 25th edition, on the things that mattered, the race was firing on all cylinders.

A full race report is forthcoming but in the meantime I'll share these short videos. I'm no JB Benna and they are a bit shaky but you'll get a sense of what it was like.

My weaknesses was exposed and combined with some bad luck my resolve was sorely tested. I finished physically trashed and weary but mentally I felt like a giant once more. I'm embarrassed for such a bad showing but also proud for not quitting. One day I will fail to finish a race, at one point I thought that day was last Saturday at the 25th running of the Mohican 100 Mile Run, but thank God that day is yet to come! Moving slower these days but still tenacious. Thank you Ohio and the Mohican 100-Mile Run. What an unforgetable experience.

No rest for the weary—Masha and I are headed out to a wedding in Paso Robles today, a 3 hour drive and after the reception we are going to drive the 4.5 hours to the finish line at Western States 100. Excited to watch, cheer and congratulate friends we manage to catch. Haha, ouch! Gonna be an exhausting weekend, especially since I'm still tired from Mohican (like I have bad jet lag) but both are not to be missed.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Lake Sonoma 50-Mile

Courtesy of Keli_1
Great place to run! Photo courtesy of Keli Kelemen.

As my good friend Bradley Fenner put it, the race is "death by a thousand paper cuts". My Garmin had the total climb at around 11,000' and Stan Jensen's Run 100 site has it at 10,500'—you start and finish at the same place so the feet of total descent is the same. The route is a clockwise loop around the lake followed by a counter-clockwise loop back to the start. Whichever measurement is right it's a lot of climbing but it comes in small doses. It doesn't seem hard at first, especially when the trail is not technical but it wears you down.

It's a road start and we were on the road for about 3 miles—smooth rolling hills that served to stretch out the field before we entered the trails. Asphalt might be tougher on the legs but it sure is smooth and predictable, a great warmup for the day ahead. Once we entered the trails the terrain was a constant up and down trek through tree covered trails with several creek crossings and no big climbs or descents to speak of until we hit "Madrone Point" aid station at mile 18.8. The first real climb of the day starts here and at this point, the course is exposed. No tree cover until we return and get past Wulfow, water only aid, at mile 32.8. The terrain is mostly fire road at this point, all the way to the turnaround and back. Big up is followed by a big down, followed by another big uphill, then some rollers at the top of the ridge before finally arriving at the turnaround at No Name Flat aid station at mile 25.2. It's important to note that the turnaround isn't a straight down-and-back affair, it's more like a lollipop loop. We entered the loop going clockwise, a sign informed us we had three quarters of a mile to go, and after the aid station we continued to go around for what seemed like another half mile before rejoining the section of the trail where we encountered cross traffic from runners still heading out to the aid station. The return to the start is mostly through the same trails except the last 5k where the road section is replaced by single track. It might have been the same trails but it felt harder and more hilly. Was it really like this on the way out?!

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Green dot indicates the start and finish, note the loop at the turnaround point.

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Elevation profile.

Courtesy of Keli_5
Lots of smooth single track. Photo courtesy of Keli Kelemen.

The memory of that awful training run Masha and I had on the course three weeks prior haunted us. We were determined to race smartly and minimize our mistakes. The weather was a big help as not only was it cool and foggy in the morning but the day was cooler overall than expected with the highs in the low 70s. A blessing since we just couldn't fit heat training in our schedule. I started towards the back and once we were on the trails I slowly moved up to where I needed to be and dialed in my pace with the help of a heart rate monitor. The way out was uneventful until I reached Madrone Point at mile 18.8 when Zach Miller came flying by. Coming down the hill not too far behind was the chase pack with Sage Canaday. They all looked so cool and rockin', the peloton chasing hard after the breakaway rider. From this point forward the race got a lot more fun. This was right before the first big uphill on the course and on the ensuing downhill on the other side I saw the first four women led by Emily Harrison. These ladies were cranking the uphill. Seeing a lot of friends heading back got me psyched up for the turnaround—I couldn't wait to be heading home too.

Courtesy of Alviin Lubrino
Masha and I at the start. Photo courtesy of Alvin Lubrino

Courtesy of Joseph Condon_2
I like this picture, how I felt on the first half—calm and collected. Photo courtesy of Joseph Condon.

I hit the turnaround at 4:54 and took the time to drop things off at my drop bag and replenish my gels. My goal for the race overall was 10 hours and while I really wanted to be at the turn around by 4:30, I was still ecstatic to be under 5. As I headed out, I felt renewed and charged up. Slowly my pace increased and it felt natural. After a mile I was bombing the downhills and two things came to mind; first, that I took the first half to conservatively to have so much energy, and two, that I was going to fast trying to make up time. There was nothing I could do about the former but for the latter I made a deal with myself—just make it to forty then slug out the last ten. Secretly, I was hoping of course that everything would continue to be super all the way to the finish. Miles 25-38 were amazing. I was able to catch and pass every runner within my sights. I kept a tally in my head, a mental trick that has helped to keep me motivated in the past—climbing a ladder one runner at a time and doing my best not to slip back down the field.

Courtesy of Joseph Condon_1
At the turnaround, happy and excited. Photo courtesy of Joseph Condon.

Courtesy of Alvin Lubrino 2
Heading home and feeling great. Photo courtesy of Alvin Lubrino.

Courtesy of Keli_2
This is just mean! No sugar coating in this race. Photo courtesy of Keli Kelemen.

I was still moving well by the time I returned to Warm Spring Creek at 38 miles but I downed a half bottle of GU Brew and took a GU Roctane and I wasn't the same from that point forward. I felt bloated and queasy. I didn't have any experience with GU Brew or GU Roctane (only regular GU)but it hadn't bothered me earlier in the day. It seemed like it had come to bite me, it was either that or dehydration. With the weather being cooler and the fog lingering longer than expected, I dumped my second bottle the first time through Warm Springs. When the sun finally did come out and things warmed up a bit I consumed more liquids—the one bottle was not enough. Whatever it was it slowed me down. I also started having this urge to pee but when I did very little would come out. My urine was dark and I had a burning sensation down there. Not good. The only thing in my bottle was more GU Brew and the only thing to eat was more gels but I kept at it not wanting to run out of energy or make my dehydration worse. When I finally hit 40 miles things had stabilized a bit, nothing got worse and things as they were was manageable. A runner I had passed stayed with me and he would be a motivating force for the remainder of the run. The last 4.5 miles was mental torture. I was ready to be done and kept looking at my watch, the distance covered was always shorter than I wanted it to be! Eventually I crossed the finish in 9:47 with a 4:54 split at the turnaround. I negative split by 1 minute. Kind of cool but really kind of not. I should have gone a little harder for the first half then rationed out my remaining energy more judiciously for the second. Still, it was a great experience and I should be lucky with the mistakes I made, chief of which was using nutrition that I didn't use in training. Soon as I finished I quickly got some fluids in me, changed and waited for Masha. I knew shortly after the halfway point that she was right behind me when I didn't see her running to the turnaround as I was coming down—We were both on the lollipop loop at the same time. Knowing she was right behind put some extra wind in my sails.

I'd like to go on record that I was wrong at least three times concerning this race with Masha. Last year we were volunteers and she was so inspired she publicly proclaimed at the finish line that she was going to run the race this year despite having only a half-marathon as the longest event she's finished. I tried to convince her otherwise knowing that it would be a tough first 50. Second after spending the holidays and most of January at home in Russia, barely running, I told her that two months wasn't enough to train and tried to convince her to drop from the race. Lastly, I told her that the shoes she wanted were not the best for the terrain and distance. I was proven wrong on all three. She finished, her two months of training combined with the experience and base she built last year was just fine and she loved the shoes.

For the first half she strove to keep up with me, shadowing me. I remember looking down from a hill at mile 8 and seeing her sucking on a gel, waving back at me. At the turnaround she was only 6 minutes behind. On the second half she lost time as she got tired but kept control of her race. She had no problems with nutrition or hydration. No issues with blisters either. She came across the finish line beaming and proclaiming she would like to do it again next year. Her time was 11:07, a bit disappointed she didn't break 11 but glad to have finished.

Courtesy of Joseph Condon
Having fun at one of the stream crossings. Photo courtesy of Joseph Condon.

Courtesy of Ken Michal
Up, up, up, first big climb of the day. Photo courtesy of Ken Michal.

Back in my bachelor days I would have driven in the morning of the race and drove home after. Masha insisted we make a weekend out of it and stayed an extra night in Healdsburg. The next day we took advantage of the race sponsored wine tasting even at Mazocco winery but not before spending some time in the town square, hunting for a place for a quick brunch.

I took 3 days off running, Masha took 4 and between the two of us she fared the best. The night of and the day after I still felt the burning sensation when I urinated and I had some blood in my urine but this cleared after a couple of days. The day after I felt like I could run but thought the better of it. On Monday I felt just as well but opted for more rest but then on Tuesday I felt exhausted, a deep down fatigue that was hard to shake. I woke up tired and I stayed tired. My appetite was on hyper mode and I craved sugar. Free tickets to the ballet kept me off my workout but on Wednesday night I succeeded in getting seven miles in. While I felt fine during the run, on Thursday I was back to being really fatigued with a hyper appetite. This finally started to taper off by Friday and on Saturday mornings run in the Headlands I felt fine albeit slow. I've never experienced that before, a delayed fatigue and spike in my appetite.

Overall it was a spectacular weekend! Both Masha and I felt like we could have done things better but as is, we were more than happy at how everything turned out. Pretty damned wonderful I'd say. Next year the race will be a lottery and I think we'll put our names in. If she gets in and I don't, I'll volunteer, and she would probably do the same if things were the other way around. If we both don't get in we'd probably both volunteer. Either way we plan to be back.

Courtesy of Keli_3
After Masha's finish, all smiles. Photo courtesy of Keli Kelemen.

Courtesy of Chris Jones
At the finish line tent with Ken and Denise. Denise volunteered, a nurse, she helped patch up a runner who took a fall. Photo courtesy of Chris Jones.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Chill Day

Been taking it easy all day and it feels great. We woke up to rain and dark clouds and we were both thankful we didn't have to be out there running this morning. It's our "back down" week and it could have come sooner. The last three weeks have been build, build, build. Last weekend we felt so run down and trashed at the Lake Sonoma training run that we not only ran slow but crawled the last five miles. We both took two days off of training after that and spent the rest of the week doing easy runs. With Lake Sonoma only a couple of weeks away now, Masha will just go straight into her taper. I on the other hand will go right back to building since Lake Sonoma is simply a stepping stone to the Mohican 100 in June. I want to be prepared for Lake Sonoma but I can't do a lengthy taper since it's not my main goal race.

The training run was fun and well attended. It's been at least three years since I've run on the course — never done the race itself. It was good to re-familiarize myself with the trails and the major sections of the race. It started well enough but early on I noticed that we were going slow, covering only 4 miles an hour. Sure we stopped to take pictures and such but it shouldn't have been that slow. Masha led and I had her up the pace a bit. We ran at a faster pace for awhile but ultimately slowed back down. By mile 19, where I feel the course dramatically gets harder, we were cooked and it was a slow crawl back to the car at 25 miles. I've never laid down on the trail at races or training runs but I did here:) I didn't feel ill or anything, I just got an overwhelming desire to do so at 19.5 under the shade of a tree. I also got really hungry and wished I had something more substantial than gels in my waist pack. On the drive home I had to stop at a gas station to pick up a cold coffee drink to stay awake. I also gave in to what must have been a day old Krispy Kreme donut, I didn't really care at that point. Coffee got me home, donut made me wish I could turn back time.

So it's been easy miles and intensity for us this week. Last night I finally felt back to normal. Later this afternoon Masha and I will head out to the Presidio for some easy miles there. We thought about joining SFRC (click for great pictures)for their Saturday morning run this morning but I think we made the right choice to sleep in and enjoy a slower paced day.

Enjoy the pictures from the training run, it's mostly Masha because as much as she likes pictures she doesn't take any when she runs. I'm also adding the mental notes I took on the run:

• Start can be chilly (heavy fog through Sonoma in the morning)
• First 18 is no sweat if you are used to hills—rolling terrain with creek crossings and lots of tree cover
• After 18, trails are more exposed, sun will be up with big climbs starting around 19
• 25 to 31 will be equally tough, exposed trails and harder terrain
• Things should get easier after 31, back to gentler rolling terrain and more tree cover

We will be running our own race but our goal is the same. We plan on a conservative start, do our best not to get pulled into a faster pace with the cool temps and easy early terrain. Plan on getting to 18 feeling good, hold on through miles 19 to 31 then hurry home the last 19 with what energy we have left.

Great turnout for the run.

Coke never tasted so good, there was one aid station for the training run—nice of Jon Medinger and gang to set that up. We were only 12 miles in at this point but feeling like already ran 20.

Good times despite being low energy.

Wulflow, mile 17 of the race. This was our aid station last year. Janet Thompson and I were registered for the race but were injured so we volunteered instead. Masha came along and all three of us joined Greg Lanctot to make up the crew of the Wulflow aid station. It was a blast with Masha declaring publicly at the finish line that she was going to run the race the following year. Quite a surpise and a big deal since she had only finished her first half-marathon a couple of months before and her longest run was 18. Wulflow is also a shortcut on the training run, cuts out 6 miles.

Mike Palmer and friends, more exposed sections after Wulflow.

Beautiful out there. Never too tired to enjoy the scenery.

The real climbs start and Masha is unhappy about it. Nothing like being tired right before the start of more challenging terrain.

The unhappiness, much like the hill, continues.

Finally the finish! RD John Medinger presiding at the parking lot. We were one of the last ones.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Marin Ultra Challenge

Masha and I shortly after her finish.

So the race was good. Our first 50k race and it pretty much turned out like I thought it would, the only thing missing was the speed but that's ok. Weather was amazing and by the time I finished, which was around noon, it was still in the mid-60s. Felt warm especially since the 50k course is exposed but not hot. It was good, good day.

The start was early. Up by 3:45, out the door by 5 and race start at 6. The event was a 50-mile, 50k, 35k and half-marathon, with the 50 milers and 50k'ers starting first. I brought my old headlamp with tapped batteries so for the first several dark miles I was overly cautious, especially on the downhills but it kept me from going too hard too early. Man, I felt in control the entire time and it felt like time moved too quickly. Ten miles, twenty miles, went by without a hitch or problem. I really didn't start getting exhausted until mile 26 or so, on the last climb of the course. By then we were mostly done and the last 5k was downhill. The only thing I wished I had was more speed but I finished around the time I thought I would - 5:42. The people along the way were excellent, fellow runners in a great mood and encouraging, volunteers and race staff were on the ball and spectators were doing a great job cheering us on. Masha and other runners in her group did encounter a female hiker who refused to step aside on the trail but other than that experience I didn't hear of anything else that was negative. And before we left we got to catch up with Bob Shebest who won the 50-mile with a time of 7:09, pretty amazing. Before heading home we stopped off at San Francisco Running Company to say hello and for a delicious somewhat healthy meal at Cafe del Soul with more friends. It was a great day.

Sunday we woke up rested and feeling like a million bucks maybe even a billion. It was also our wedding anniversary! So after a leisurely morning catching up on events on social media we celebrated by going on another run. We had planned on a double since we are training for Lake Sonoma but was dreading the usual route so we decided to head back out to Marin. Hit SFRC and Cafe del Soul again but this time we went through Sausalito. Unlike the day before, we ran together this time and took our time enjoying the sights and weather. It was good fun but I had trouble keeping up with Masha. It was hard the first couple of miles but we warmed up nicely and the going got easier. We managed 13 miles and by the time we stopped I was ready to be done.

Monday I was bleary eyed, sufficiently tired and wishing it was still Sunday but without all the running. Felt like a million/billion dollars, just like Sunday morning. Damn awesome weekend.

Tomorrow we head out to Lake Sonoma for a training run organized by the RD's. The drive there and back will take longer than the actual run but it will be good for Masha to run the course. More trail fun coming up.

Masha finishing.

With her Iron Minx group, soon to be the Trail Minxes

With Bob Shebest.

Jon after his 35k race.

Hard working volunteers; Kara, Lauri and Gary.

Jorge and Jenny, working hard. At SFRC post race.

Race bling.