Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Catalina Island Marathon: conquering the hills

Why the Catalina trail marathon?... instead of Boston? or LA? or some other big race? Well... why not. Runners World ranked Catalina as a Top Ten scenic marathon. It’s a gorgeous point-to-point course up and down the dirt roads that cross the island... a tough, challenging race across endless coastal wilderness. With ~4000' of climbing, the race is small... but well established and well organized. Runners get addicted to this race... it’s become a “cult marathon”... and a handful have run all 35 editions since its meager beginnings in 1978... and I now understand why.

Training. Besides normal marathon training, I ran lots of hills... with plenty of variation... short, fast hill sprints... long, steep hill climbs... trails with hills (which tend to be steep)... lots and lots of hills. Training seemed to go well. Long runs were solid... tempos were good... and I had run up every steep hill in my area too many times to count. It was now time to put it on the line and race.

Logistics. The race starts on the remote west end of the island in the tiny “town” of Two Harbors... a metropolis consisting of 1 hotel, 1 restaurant, 1 general store, 1 campground, and a few houses. The race finishes in Avalon, the shopping/resort hub on the other end of the island.

Instead of catching the 2:15am boat out of Long Beach or the 4:45am boat out of Avalon, I chose to camp in Two Harbors on Friday night. Great choice... perfect camping weather... low 50s, clear skies... so perfect, I ditched the tent and slept under the stars. Really cool to fall asleep staring at the Big Dipper and see it slowly rotate around the North Star through the night. In the distance were the lights of Long Beach and Palos Verdes. The night’s serenade was the waves on the shore and the random barks of a lone sea lion. I slept well, except twice waking to the sound of deer walking through my campsite. But that was ok. They’re welcome guests. They were easy to spot since all the surroundings were now lit up by a bright full moon.

Race morning. Everything went smoothly. Mary Ann’s homemade banana bread was breakfast... mmmm.... good carbs. Temps were chilly but not cold. The rangers hauled our gear for us to the race start. I wore my warmer clothes til just 10 minutes before the start when I tossed my bag on the truck.

The sun was just beginning to rise as 400 of us gathered over the hill towards Catalina Harbor (the “other” harbor) on the north side of the isthmus. The air was chilly but with no clouds in the sky we knew it would warm up fast.

Race Start. At 7:00am sharp, we were off. About 20 runners got out ahead of me on the opening mile. As seen on the elevation profile, this trail race has some long, crazy steep climbs, and some of the steepest are in the opening four miles. I geared back and didn’t mind if people got ahead of me early on. I figured I could pass many of them later when it really counted if I played my cards right.

Already in mile 3, I was doing some power-hiking on steep climbs to avoid spiking my HR too high too soon. I got passed by plenty of people who were trying to “run” the entire course. But for me, the goal was not necessarily to run every step, but to get to the finish line as fast as possible... regardless if that involved sucking-up my ego and doing some power-hiking to save myself for the end of the race.

The scenery was amazing. Only 4 miles into the race and we were already looking down big hills to the Pacific 1000’ below... but then only 4 miles later we were back at sea level at Little Harbor facing more climbs into the heart of the island’s mountains.

I was running this race purely by effort, not by a set pace or a goal time. Splits were erratic with the terrain. Mile 4 was 9:56 (!!) but mile 7 was 6:25 (!!). My goal was to keep my HR just under 160 in the first half of the race. Somewhere around mile 4 or 5, I passed the women’s leader and had overheard she was a 3:00 marathoner... so I knew I was about in the right place so far. I kept leapfrogging one guy... he’d pass me on the uphills and I’d pass him back on the downhills. Nice guy and we chatted some... and he looked relaxed and fast as he got ahead of me some.

Around mile 7, we came around a bend and a big ol’ buffalo was standing next to the road... kinda made me nervous... and a tad faster. Of course, if the bull charged, I didn’t have to outrun him... just those near me... :-)

The island has hundreds of bison... and they’re not indigenous... just scattered herds left over from the days when the island was used for filming westerns. I had hoped to see one... but not quite this close. When I picked up my registration on Friday night, I started to inquire about the danger of bison...

Me: “Do you ever see...”

Race Director: “...dead bodies on the trail?... No, not that often...”

...and then he laughed. :-) He must love that joke... and pulling it on newcomers like me. Actually, the race has never had a bison incident in 30+ years... but I didn’t want to be the first.

Around mile 10, we were racing downhill past Little Harbor and I had a good view of the next mile or so. I counted 12 people ahead... at least, I thought... wasn’t sure... that seemed too few, maybe others were further ahead and out of sight... and maybe a few of those were walkers who had started a half hour earlier. I didn’t know. But I figured I was in decent position for a good overall finish.

One of my dreams for this race was a Top Ten finish, but that had seemed a little far-fetched. I also knew some of those ahead were old-timers who knew this course well. I wasn’t sure how many of them I’d be able to reel back in... or if I’d get reeled in by others behind me. And so far, it seemed like I was making no progress towards any of them ahead and the gaps appeared to be widening. But the race was still young and not half done.

Miles 12 to 19 had no downhills or flats... just non-stop climbs. Fortunately, the middle five were a gradual incline through Middle Ranch which made it feel rather flat. I ended up averaging a pleasant 8:18 pace on that section. I would have liked to have been faster, but the sun was getting high and the interior of the island was heating up. Unfortunately, Catalina has few trees and little shade so the sun bore down on us heavily. I had hydrated well before the race and at every aid station along the way... but even with the help of sodium and sunscreen, it would be a war of attrition to the finish.

Around mile 12, I finally started reeling people in. First, a couple of guys on an S curve heading up towards Middle Ranch. Leapfrog guy stayed about 50 yards ahead of me, but after a few more miles he started to fade. Then gradually I caught a guy I had met on the boat the day before. He was a 14-year veteran of this race. His advice had been that the real race begins at mile 18 on Pumphouse Hill... which was now... ominously... only a mile ahead as I caught him. We chatted briefly. As I tentatively pulled away I knew he was back there... lurking... ready to pounce if I overdid it and popped.

Well, we reached the Pumphouse and then I saw the hill for the first time. Wow. It was steep and looked like it went on forever. It averages a 9% grade for well over a mile, with some parts as steep as 13%... and this is 18 miles into the race... an absolutely cruel place to face such a beast. I allowed my HR to get a little higher on this hill, but wow, 6 times I had to power-hike to keep things in check. Mile 18 was by far my slowest of the day... 10:57 (!!). But I made it to the top and guzzled some water at the aid station. And fortunately the guys behind me made little progress towards me, even though I don’t think any of them power-hiked. But I had to save my legs (and my race) because there were still 8 miles and plenty of hills to go.

At the top of that hill, I was now out of the hot canyon and up on Airport Road with amazing views of ridges and ocean in all directions. But the climbing wasn’t done. The next 5 miles were a roller-coaster across five significant hills on the ridgeline. The sun was now high in the sky with no clouds for cover... but I was determined not to let that evil, life-sucking orb get the best of me. Ever so gradually I managed to reel in two more runners ahead and separate from them. And then I came across another and managed to pass him even as I power-hiked the remaining steep inclines. Around mile 23, I looked to the east and spotted Avalon for the first time and thought, “Holy freakin’ cow... we’re still 1500’ in the sky and the finish line is way down there only 3 miles away... my body is gonna hate me for this.”

And then the dirt road just seemed to drop off the face of the earth. It zigged and zagged down cliffs at a 10% grade. The hills were all behind me so I ran with “controlled abandon” (if there can be such a thing). I glanced at my watch every now and then and it was reading 6:30s and 6:40s... so far so good... but wow, I had to keep my eyes on the road because the footing was steep, loose, and treacherous.

I began to feel the effects of dehydration which I had tried to prevent... but there was nothing I could do now. I just had to hang on and it would all be over in about 15 minutes. About a mile and a half from the finish, I managed to catch and pass another runner as we came through the Wrigley Gardens... and I had another runner in my sights only 30 seconds ahead of him.

But then my body started to revolt. Dehydration was taking its toll. I was cramping all over... side stitches on both sides... my gait became awkward as my calves and quads were seizing up... and my pace slowed to 7:40s. If it wasn’t for the downhill, I’m not sure if I could’ve kept running. I wanted so bad to stop... but then again I didn’t either. This was what I had saved my legs for. This was why I had run all the hills in training. THIS WAS IT. Hang on. Suck it up and git ‘er dun.

It seemed like eternity for the finish line to come into sight on the straights of this road. It was like time had gone into slow motion... Why was my Garmin ticking off the distance so slowly?... Was it malfunctioning?... Had I miscalculated and it was really further than I anticipated?... Please... make it all stop!... Where is the daggum finish line?!?

Finally, there it was in the distance. Now to this point, I had no idea about my overall place, pace or time. My A goal was to run 3:30 (8:00/mile pace), but I had thought 3:40 was more realistic with all the hills. And even though my Garmin could tell me my total time and my average pace, I had never looked at either the entire race. And it really didn’t matter either. It was a race and I had left it all on the course.

As I approached the finish I was stunned to be announced as 7th overall. wow. Wow. WOW! All the work had paid off. The time rolled over to 3:35:03 (even though my Garmin read 3:34:55... but I won’t quibble). But wow, I thought it would take 3:20-something to place that high... but I guess the sun had wreaked some serious havoc out there. It certainly did for me in the last mile. After I crossed the line, I wobbled over to the nearest bench and just collapsed... not unconscious... no medic needed... just absolutely spent.

I laid there on my back for several minutes... so glad the sufferfest was over. Seventh overall, wow... so happy for that... and no one had passed me after the opening miles of the race... and only 6 had finished ahead of me. As all the runners I had passed trickled across the line for the next half hour, I realized it had all paid off... the training... the pacing... I don’t think I could’ve eked anything more out of that race that day. I had got ‘er dun.

Reflection. It’s now been three days for me to reflect on that experience. I blog, not because I’m a great runner or anything close to that... I didn’t win the race or even my age-group... I set no records on Saturday, not even personal ones. I blog because of the experience.

The marathon is such a long arduous event that the internal struggles feel epic at the time. They end up etched indelibly on our mind’s eye. That’s why runners can remember incidental facts and details about their races long past... sparked only by a random thought or sight from an event years ago. But over time, the vivid memories of the personal battles fade and this blog post attempts to capture some of that before that happens. Thanks for reading.


Here's the official results.

Here's the local article describing Saturday's race.

Here's a course description by "Buffalo" Bill McDermont... the "Human Shock Absorber" who owns the course record and has run every edition of the race.

Other Incidentals... Two "near disasters" I avoided...

Trying to get gear packed for both racing and camping in a remote wilderness place can be stressful. You don't want to forget something important... like your running shoes... or your sleeping bag. I managed not to forget anything (yet keeping my baggage to a minimum)... except I arrived in my isolated campsite as it was getting dark... and suddenly realized I had a travel lock (with a number combination) on my duffelbag... and my headlamp was locked inside! I had to guess which way the numbers turned and hoped that none of them had moved... and with a huge relief, it did open.

On Friday (the day before the race), I was getting camping gear together in my garage and slightly strained my lower back. My friends know this can be very serious for me because I ended up with a severe back strain that incapacitated me for weeks after I finished a marathon in Dec 2010. All day Friday, whether I sat, stood or walked, I could feel the strain and just hoped it wouldn't seize up in this race with so many steep hills. I tried to take it easy and not to dwell on it. And I'm very thankful, my back cooperated.

Disclaimer: I don't want to imply that these photos are mine because most aren't. I wish I could cite the sources, but I didn't note them when I searched for images. My apologies.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

A John Deere tractor on the 5 Freeway

Highlights and observations from my run at the Boston Marathon on Monday.

Many of you know I had a very disappointing race in Boston back in 07. This was my first attempt at Boston since.

Then (2007) / Now (2011) Comparisons:

Then 3:14:56; now 3:15:14

Then half splits in 1:34:32/1:40:24 (5:52 pos split); now 1:37:23/1:37:51 (0:28 pos split)

Then nor’easter, rainy, headwinds, 40s; now perfect day, strong tailwind (17mph WSW), 45* at start, 54* at finish (as I observed on at a bank on Beacon St)

Then slowest winning times (M & F) in the previous 22 years (since 1985); now fastest world and American times ever in history

Then over-trained... built my mileage too much too fast and did the wrong kinds of speedwork (few LT’s, few MP’s; too many mile repeats); now waaaay under-trained (due to back injury in Dec)

Then I averaged 85 mpw from Jan 1 to Patriot’s Day; now I averaged only 35 mpw from Jan 1 to Patriot’s Due (due to injury)

Then I ran PR tune-up races in 35:53 (6 miles), 57:45 (15K), and 1:23:32 (half); now I hadn’t run a race in 4 months

Then I wore only a watch; now I wear a Garmin 305 to help me with pace and effort (Heart Rate)

Then I didn’t know how to run in the rain but I had to; now I know how to run and race in the rain but didn’t have to

Then overdressed in rain pants; now in shorts and singlet (even though I was shivering and cold in Hopkinton while wearing 3 layers pre-race)

Then was obsessing about a specific time goal (my first sub-3); now was going to do my best but enjoy the run.

Then other than the Newton Hills (miles 17-21), my last 4 miles (miles 23, 24, 25, 26) were my slowest 4 miles of the entire race; now my last 2 miles (miles 25 & 26) were my fastest 2 miles.

Then I finished 2,562nd out of 20,348 finishers; now I finished 3,975 out of 23,879 finishers.

Then I left Boston embarrassed, frustrated, and disappointed; now I left Boston having had the time of my life… even though I ran 18 seconds slower than 4 years ago in Boston, and 18 minutes slower than my PR only 4 months ago at CIM.

Then I got choked up running under a TV camera at the start line in Hopkinton knowing that Mary Ann and the kids were back in California looking for me on TV and cheering me on; now… well, I still got choked up for the same reason.

Someone could see my limited training going into Boston and come to some wrong conclusions. Someone might think, wow, he’s got the genes and talent to run fast (if you consider 3:15 fast, which I really don’t) and that genetics are more important than training. Definitely not true... otherwise I would’ve run this time (and faster) when I was in my 20s, not my 40s... and I never once came close.

Or someone might erroneously think, marathons don’t require much training if he can pull off that time on such limited training. Wrong again... the only reason I could run this well (which really wasn’t outstanding) was because I’ve run so much for months and years prior to my injury hiatus. Yes, my Boston training cycle was cut extremely short by injury, but the only reason I could do what I did on Patriot’s Day is because of the miles I’ve run before the injury.

So how bad was my Boston training? Well, I ran a PR at CIM on Dec 5 in 2:57:58. Plan was to use that as a stepping stone towards an even faster run at Boston. But at the end of CIM, I severely hurt my back/hip (x-rays, MRI, chiro, etc.) and went 7.5 weeks without running (except limited attempts without any pain-free success). Just walking from my car to the office was an accomplishment. Wasn’t sure if I’d ever walk pain-free again, yet alone run. And unfortunately, I couldn’t cycle or do the stair-climber or any cross-training so my aerobic fitness (not just my running legs) was departing for the netherworld in the proverbial hand-basket.

As the injury gradually healed by mid-Jan, every mile I tried to run was a grind. It’s the closest I’ve ever come to saying, That’s it. I quit. My running career is over. I also had gained 15 lbs (which makes sense... no longer running 70mpw = ~7,000 calories a week = ~2 lbs body fat a week).

But fortunately, I didn’t quit. I pressed on. Weekly mileage after CIM was: 0, 0, 0, 0, 5, 1, 25, 27, 17 (hurt my back again getting a dish out of the dishwasher!), 40, 40, 50, 57, 65, 66, 66, 55, and 31. My weekly long runs were: 0, 0, 0, 0, 2, 1, 8, 11, 7, 11, 11, 13, 16, 20, 21, 21, 13. In comparison, for the 15 months leading up to CIM, I had averaged 70+ mpw, including 85 mpw in the final 10 weeks.

After waiting for weeks in Dec-Jan for my back to heal, Boston was an absolute no-go. I could barely survive the shortest runs (at slow paces and high HR’s). Even when I ran as far as 16 miles on March 12 (a mere 5 weeks out), it was a tough, tough run that I barely survived. Going 10 miles farther without hurting myself wasn’t even an option.

But then I heard from an old friend of mine. Eric had always been active... ran XC and track in HS... often biked centuries as an adult. I had seen that he had walked some races recently, and I must admit, I wondered why he walked instead of at least jogging or running since he had always been so fit, but I never asked. I was just glad he was staying active.

So I heard from Eric and he mentioned he would be walking the Music City Marathon on April 30, and he told the whole story of all that had been going on. While training for a triathlon 5 years ago, he encountered health problems. Blood tests came back irregular. Long story short, but he’s battling a serious auto-immune syndrome in which his body is fighting against itself and it leaves him lethargic, achey, and sore. But Eric’s not a quitter and that’s why he started walking races (under doctor’s supervision) and now he’s training to do an entire marathon.

When I understood Eric’s whole story, I knew I had to go for it at Boston in honor of him. That Saturday, I went out and ran a make-it or break-it 20-miler that went reasonably well (certainly not great). I figured I could throw together 3 weeks of solid training and then go to Boston with no high expectations and just hope for the best. So I started running 2 LT runs a week (I had to try to ratchet up my lactate threshold) and I got in 3 long runs. Never even topped 70 miles in a single week of training.

So yeah, I missed 7.5 weeks of running... but unlike Kara Goucher (who finished 5th female on Monday), I didn’t have a baby.

• Take the first downhill mile easy and bank effort instead of banking time. Make it a 25.2 mile race.

• Cruise ~7:20/mile pace for the first 16 miles. (Note: 2 weeks prior, my 11-mile marathon-paced run averaged 7:10 pace, but my HR got waaaaay too high... so I knew faster than 7:20 pace was suicidal.)

• Start using some energy on the Newton Hills (from MM 16 to 21) but don’t come close to red-line and expect to slow from 7:26 pace.

• Start putting the pedal down after topping Heartbreak Hill... and throw every log on the fire in the closing two miles.

• And seriously hope the wheels don’t fall off in the last 5 miles due to lack of training.

Garmin Info:

Mile . Split ...Up ... Down .. AvgHR ..MaxHR
01 ... 7:18 ... 26’ .. 133’ ... 149 ... 161
02 ... 7:11 ... 22’ ... 79’ ... 155 ... 158
03 ... 7:20 .... 0’ ... 50’ ... 154 ... 158
04 ... 7:13 .... 0’ ... 62’ ... 154 ... 159
05 ... 7:38 ... 36’ ... 28’ ... 157 ... 163
06 ... 7:22 .... 0’ .... 8’ ... 157 ... 162
07 ... 7:17 .... 0’ ... 16’ ... 158 ... 162
08 ... 7:38 ... 25’ ... 12’ ... 157 ... 163
09 ... 7:27 .... 0’ ... 41’ ... 156 ... 160
10 ... 7:31 ... 30’ .... 4’ ... 154 ... 158
11 ... 7:29 ... 15’ .... 0’ ... 156 ... 162
12 ... 7:17 .... 9’ ... 65’ ... 156 ... 161
13 ... 7:26 ... 26’ ... 17’ ... 157 ... 163
14 ... 7:29 ... 12’ ... 12’ ... 157 ... 162
15 ... 7:39 ... 23’ .... 0’ ... 158 ... 163
16 ... 7:13 ... 12’ .. 131’ ... 158 ... 162
17 ... 7:49 ... 76’ .... 0’ ... 163 ... 166
18 ... 7:46 ... 79’ ... 33’ ... 163 ... 167
19 ... 7:23 ... 15’ ... 51’ ... 162 ... 168
20 ... 7:41 ... 68’ ... 50’ ... 164 ... 170
21 ... 8:03 ... 91’ .... 0’ ... 167 ... 172
22 ... 7:20 .... 0’ ... 86’ ... 171 ... 184 (!!!)
23 ... 7:23 .... 0’ ... 51’ ... 169 ... 173
24 ... 7:10 ... 25’ ... 54’ ... 172 ... 188
25 ... 7:02 .... 0’ ... 52’ ... 176 ... 185
26 ... 6:53 .... 0’ .... 0’ ... 185 ... 191
0.35 . 2:06 .... 0’ .... 0’ ... 191 ... 194 (!!!) (6:07 pace)
Tot 3:15:17 .. 589’ . 1036’ ... 161 ... 194 (7:24 avg pace)

Notes: Garmin isn’t always precise on elevation gain and loss. Officially, Boston has a net elevation drop of 442’, not 448’ as my Garmin indicates. And I have no idea why it shows zero elevation gain or loss in the final 1.35 miles since it’s gently downhill on Commonwealth Ave and Boylston St and slightly uphill on Hereford.

Normally, I like to have my HR ~158-159 in the opening 16 miles of a marathon. I ran a little easier than that in the opening miles on Monday. But I knew being undertrained I would experience more HR drift upward than normal. And I certainly did. But since I didn’t overdo it early, it didn’t ruin my race.

Official Results from the B.A.A.:
Bib #1643
05K ... 22:42 ... 7:19 pace ... 0:22:42 ... 7:19 pace
10K ... 23:08 ... 7:28 pace ... 0:45:50 ... 7:24 pace
15K ... 23:15 ... 7:30 pace ... 1:09:05 ... 7:26 pace
20K ... 23:18 ... 7:31 pace ... 1:32:23 ... 7:27 pace
25K ... 23:20 ... 7:32 pace ... 1:55:43 ... 7:28 pace
30K ... 23:47 ... 7:40 pace ... 2:19:30 ... 7:30 pace
35K ... 23:59 ... 7:44 pace ... 2:43:29 ... 7:32 pace
40K ... 22:36 ... 7:17 pace ... 3:06:05 ... 7:30 pace

Chip Time: 3:15:14 (7:27 pace)
Gun Time: 3:16:06 (52sec diff between chip & gun)

3,975th overall out of 23,879 total finishers (top 16.65%)
3,585th male out of 13,806 men (top 25.97%)
692nd out of 2,303 in M40-44 age-group (top 30.05%)

Fastest Miles:
Mile 26 in 6:53 (34 seconds faster than my avg pace)
Mile 25 in 7:02 (25 seconds faster than my avg pace)
Ran the last 0.35 mile (on my Garmin) at 6:07 pace (!!!)

Slowest Miles:
Mile 21 in 8:03 (36 seconds slower than my avg pace; Heartbreak Hill)
Mile 17 in 7:49 (22 seconds slower than my avg pace; start Newton Hills)
Mile 18 in 7:46 (19 seconds slower than my avg pace; 2nd mile of Newton Hills)

Half Splits: 1:37:23/1:37:51 (28 second positive split)

Last 10K (mile 20 to finish) in 45:57 (7:24/mile pace or 2 sec/mile faster than my avg pace, which included Heartbreak Hill mile in 8:03).

Age-graded calculator = 67.48%.

Highlights and Observations:

Pro Races. On Sunday, I watched the B.A.A. mile races on Boylston St. Both of the elite races (M & F) were decided at the wire. Anna Pierce for the US got pipped at the line, and so did Lukas Verzibicas.

The mile races reminded me that on Monday, no matter how my race went... you gotta lean at the tape... even if I'm finishing behind 3,974 other people (not that I was counting or anything) and over an hour behind the winners... and I did... I leaned at the tape. :-)

Fenway. Sunday afternoon, I finally saw a game at the grand ol’ historic ballpark. Pesky’s Pole. The great Green Monster. The manual scoreboard. Great stuff for baseball fans. Game was good (Red Sox 8, Blue Jays 1)... but even more fun was sharing it with friends... including Lee and Angela Toowey from Texas (friends of my college friend Kevin Anderson). Lee ran a great race and a new PR the next day. Congrats Lee! Loved it in the 8th when the crowd all sang, “Sweet Caroline... bah... bah... bah” (Neil Diamond song)... a Fenway tradition. Classic. Pure classic.

Hopkinton. Pre-race weather was cold (40s) and very, very windy. Everyone was hunkered down in any nook or cranny of a wall or building they could find. I had on 3 layers (upper body) but was still shivering due to my bare legs. I had thought about wearing rain pants, but only an idiot would do that. I peeled down to a singlet at the start of the race and never regretted it.

Pictures galore. I find it amusing how marathoners, especially at Boston, documented everything, and I mean *everything*, on race day. I observed runners photographing things such as their breakfast, or their seat on the ride to Hopkinton, or where they went to the bathroom (seriously). Of course, these pics of bagels, buses, and porta-potties are important so we can all blog about the entire experience when we get home. Of course, no one actually reads these blogs... not even doting mothers who saved all our third-place ribbons from Field Day. And even though these blogs aren’t sustainable by Google ads, the bloggers do provide the world a great service with amazing pics of post-race toenails for late-night insomniacs in cyberspace. Btw, here's my blog: http://jjcate.blogspot.com/

Life in the slow lane. Based on my PR from CIM (2:57), I was seeded in Corral 2 (out 23), but I lined up waaay in the back near Corral 3 due to my current lack of fitness. Since I was running far slower (7:20s) than my Boston-Qualifier time (6:40s) and thus those around me, it felt like all of New England ran past me on Monday morning. Seriously. I felt like a John Deere tractor on the 5 freeway. It made the tailwind all the more severe as everyone went blowing by me.

I’m not exaggerating when I say I don’t think I passed a single person in the first 16 miles of the race... well, except those on the side of the road who had over-hydrated. My OC friend Sam who was in Corral 3 even passed me in the corrals before I got to the starting line. Literally several thousand runners (at least) passed me. It was very humbling to say the least. Seriously, I started among bib #1000s and was finishing among the 6000s and 7000s (as seen in race photos).

But I knew I had to be patient or else I would crash and burn in a painful demise. It’s far more fun to pass people at the end of the race than the beginning. On the Newton Hills (beginning at mile 16), I finally started passing some people who had gone out too hard. I passed more on the backside of Heartbreak Hill, and in the final 2 miles not only was I passing everyone in sight but no one was hanging with me either. Hey, if I couldn’t run a fast overall time, at least I could pace it well and finish strong. And I did and it felt great.

Crowds. Loved, loved, loved the crowds. I’ve never high-5’ed with so many kids in my life. Loved how the school kids would count how many high-5’s they got like it was a competition against their brother or sister. At times, I just ran along the road with my hand out just slapping hand after hand after hand after hand. The crowds were so thick it was like running a parade route. You could hear the Wellesley scream tunnel (the girls from Wellesley College around mile 13) a half mile before you got to it.

At Boston College (around mile 21) starting on the downside of Heartbreak Hill, I nearly ruined my race due to the crowds. I knew all the tough hills were now behind me. And the college students were yelling so loud. I started high-5’ing them and soaring like an airplane. The crowds loved it. Even the squirrels were clapping. Next thing I know I look down and my pace is at 6:06 and my HR at 184 (!!!)... yikes! Had to back off or blow up.

New PR. Even though Monday wasn't a banner day for me, I did set a new PR at Boston. Seriously. A heart-rate PR. Not sure if that’s a good thing or not. Prior to Boston, the highest HR I had ever hit while either racing or training (even long, tough hill repeats) was 191. But on Boylston Street on Monday, I hit 194... and I averaged 191 for the last 0.35 on my Garmin. So much for sports clich├ęs... I can honestly say I gave it 110%... well, at least, 101.57%. Of course at the time, I more worried about becoming a different kind of statistic...

Important thoughts. Non-runners sometimes ask me, So when you’re out there for so long running, What do you think about? Well I thought about that. And I thought about Mary Ann and the kids back home seeing some of the telecast. Of course, I also wondered if they forgot or were watching Sponge Bob instead, but they didn't... or at least they said they didn't... or maybe they'll just read this blog post?... nah...

Every time I crossed a chip timing mat at the 5K points, I also thought about family and friends tracking me online. That was rather intimidating. Everyone in the world knew exactly where I was at that point and how I was doing. Really didn't want to crash and burn in an ugly, humiliating way.

I also thought about my friend Eric. He gave me lots of good inspiration to keep going strong even when there were 10 or 12 miles left to go. Around mile 10, I passed Dick and Rick Hoyt. Absolutely amazing to see them in person in the race. True celebrities and a great inspiration.

But I also thought about other important matters during the race... such as, Why do all New England houses have shutters? We don’t have these here in California. And do these shutters actually work? And if so, do people use them? And when? Or are they merely ornamental? Do home-owners associations require shutters? Are they part of the civil housing codes? I really need to return to Boston to investigate this. I'm sure there are late-night insomniacs in cyberspace awaiting my thoughts on this phenomenon...

Bad eyesight or habitual liars? All along the way, people kept saying, “Looking good!” or even yelling "Looking great." Well, I’ve seen myself in the mirror and know they weren’t talking about me. And I looked around at everyone else and they looked even worse. So I’m not sure if New Englanders suffer from some kind of genetic eye problem or if they’re all practicing to become politicians.

Trying to be friendly. Generally, I discovered that once the gun fired, everyone became rather anti-social. I tried to break the ice sometimes and be friendly, but rarely did the conversation go farther than one or two sentences... even in the opening miles when the pace still seemed relatively easy... but maybe that was because everyone was flying past me and had no time to talk...

Fire truck. Somewhere in the middle of the first half... I dunno... maybe around Natick or Framingham, we crested a small hill and could see probably a half-mile ahead in the distance and wow... there’s a big firetruck with lights on coming up Hwy 135 at us in opposition to the flow of runners. It was like the parting of the Red Sea as hundreds of runners went around and it slowly came up the road. I mentioned to a runner next to me, Wow... heckuva time for a house fire.... But he didn't say anything and ran past me too...

Tailwind. Despite what famous coach Renato Canova says on letsrun, yes there was a strong tailwind. Both the American (Ryan Hall in 2:04:57) and world (Geoffrey Mutai in 2:03:02) best marathon times were smashed at Boston on Monday.

But you don’t feel a tailwind when you’re running with it... unless you turn and run into it... but people were already tripping over my slow carcass as I moved in the correct direction so I didn't attempt this. But evidence of the tailwind was all around if you looked for it. I noticed at one aid station that the cups on the ground were blowing down the street faster than I was running... granted, that doesn't say much about my speed... but still... tailwind.

At another point, I commented to a runner near me, "Gotta love this tailwind." He looked at me like, What? Then I pointed to a runner near us who was carrying a big American flag... and the flag was blowing in *front* of him while he ran (not behind him). I commented, I’ve never seen something like that ever before in my life. He didn't say anything either and ran on past me too...

You absolutely could not custom order better weather than what we had. Tailwind of 17 mph from WSW matched the course precisely. When I was walking through the finishing chute and heard the winning time (2:03:02), I was thinking, Holy freakin’ cow... but I knew why. It was the once-in-a-century perfect storm... literally.

The Finish. The best part of the race for me was the final 5 miles. I think Boston is kind of like a 10-mile race with a 16-mile warm-up. You need to run patiently and conservatively on the opening 16 miles. The true race is the 5 miles through the Newton Hills and then the 5 miles to the finish. And I played my cards well. I was flying in the final miles and logged my fastest miles of the day. And it was a blast to be strong in front of the biggest crowds on Commonwealth Ave, Hereford St, and Boylston St. I really didn’t expect to have that much left in the tank at that point, but I’m glad I did.

Jacob Wirth’s. Our post-race dinner was at Jacob Wirth’s. The place was packed with runners. We had a great time eating and laughing and without noticing spent 3 hours there. I ate with my OC friend Sam (and many others)... and Sam was absolutely ecstatic about his first sub-3 marathon (2:57:53). Of course, I razzed him about the tailwind because his PR is now 5 seconds faster than mine. I’m sure the tailwind was worth at least 6 seconds...

My OC running friend John Loftus (2:47; 11th AG on Monday... awesome as ever!) even arranged for another runner in the restaurant, a young guy who was a musician, to go to the piano and play. In no time, he had the entire place singing "Sweet Caroline... bah... bah... bah... Good times never felt so good... so good... so good... so good!" What a perfect song to cap off a great day. Great times, great memories. Sam caught it on video and posted it on youtube. And for the record, I'm in the yellow shirt at ~0:52... that's *not* me dancing (if you can call it that) at ~1:22. Youtube scares me. :-)

Sorry for such a long blog post. No wonder my mom doesn't read these. I'm just very thankful to be healthy and back out there running pain-free again. It was hard to keep from smiling on Monday. Glad I got to create some new Boston memories. First time I was overtrained, now I was undertrained. Maybe third time is a charm?...

Thanks for reading. Git 'er dun.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Cal International Marathon

Cal International Marathon
Folsom Lake to the State Capitol in Sacramento
7:00am, Sunday, December 5, 2010

Weather: Partly cloudy/sunny all day
Start: 48°, no wind, no rain
Finish: mid-50s, no wind, no rain

I had high hopes for a good run at CIM. For 15 months, I had averaged running over 70 miles per week. After doing some 5K training throughout the summer, I had a somewhat short training cycle for this race. I had 10 weeks of solid training at more than 80 miles per week, and then 2 weeks of tapering off the mileage for race day. The 10 weeks went flawlessly according to my plan with my weekly mileage at 82, 82, 85, 80, 83, 80, 86, 89, 82, 82, and then 65 and 28 (sans marathon) for the 2 taper weeks. Saturday was normally my day for my long run and 9x I had runs of 20-24 miles in length. I had good 5-6 mile LT runs ("lactate threshold" runs, about the same pace as a 10-mile race), medium-length MP runs ("marathon paced" runs, about 20sec/mile slower than LT runs), and tune-up races (10K, 10-mile, and a half marathon). Overall, I felt I was peaking just right for an optimum performance at CIM.

Garmin Info
Mile . Split ...Up ... Down .. AvgHR ..MaxHR
01 ... 6:38 .... 0’ ... 54’ ... 150? ... ?
02 ... 6:50 ... 19’ ... 24’ ... 157? ... ?
03 ... 6:41 .... 0’ ... 36’ ... 157 ... 161
04 ... 6:45 .... 0’ ... 53’ ... 157 ... 163
05 ... 6:45 ... 14’ .... 8’ ... 157 ... 163
06 ... 6:46 .... 0’ ... 16’ ... 158 ... 161
07 ... 6:47 ... 39’ ... 40’ ... 157 ... 162
08 ... 6:52 ... 39’ ... 23’ ... 157 ... 162
09 ... 6:53 ... 33’ ... 22’ ... 158 ... 162
10 ... 6:43 .... 0’ ... 15’ ... 156 ... 160
11 ... 6:43 ... 51’ ... 92’ ... 155 ... 161
12 ... 6:54 ... 42’ ... 61’ ... 157 ... 163
13 ... 6:49 ... 16’ ... 31’ ... 156 ... 161
14 ... 6:44 .... 0’ .... 9’ ... 157 ... 161
15 ... 6:54 ... 11’ ... 14’ ... 159 ... 162
16 ... 6:46 ... 27’ ... 29’ ... 160 ... 163
17 ... 6:52 .... 0’ ... 36’ ... 161 ... 164
18 ... 6:51 .... 0’ ... 19’ ... 161 ... 163
19 ... 6:51 ... 16’ ... 16’ ... 162 ... 166
20 ... 6:50 .... 0’ ... 13’ ... 163 ... 166
21 ... 6:48 .... 0’ ... 11’ ... 165 ... 168
22 ... 6:54 .... 0’ .... 3’ ... 166 ... 169
23 ... 6:48 .... 7’ .... 3’ ... 168 ... 170
24 ... 6:48 .... 0’ .... 9’ ... 169 ... 171
25 ... 6:37 .... 0’ .... 6’ ... 172 ... 175
26 ... 6:34 .... 0’ .... 0’ ... 174 ... 179
0.28 . 1:36 .... 0’ .... 0’ ... 178 ... 179 (5:46 pace)
Tot 2:57:58 .. 314’ .. 643’ ... 160.5 . 179 (6:47 avg pace)

Notes: HR monitor wasn’t reading correctly for the opening two miles so the data is conjectured. Also, the official difference between elevation loss and gain is -340’ (366’ start; 26’ finish), even though my Garmin registered -329’.

Official Results from CIM:
Bib #1248
Mile 5.9 in 39:28 (349th place)
Mile 13.1 in 1:28:51 (347th place, moved up 2 spots)
Mile 20.0 in 2:16:09 (322nd place, moved up 25 more spots)
Chip Time: 2:57:58 (246th place, moved up 76 more spots)
Gun Time: 2:58:06
246th overall out of 5,879 total finishers (top 4.2%)
193rd male out of 3,330 men (top 5.8%)
22nd out of 625 in M40-44 age-group (top 3.5%)

CIM is the most competitive marathon in the west (even though it has only a third the number of runners as the L.A. Marathon or the S.D. Rock-n-Roll marathon). CIM is the 5th most competitive marathon in the entire U.S. (only behind Boston, Chicago, New York, and Twin Cities).

PR by 90 seconds. Previous best = 2:59:28 at the Orange Co. Marathon on May 2, 2010 (but afterward I learned the OCM course may have been as much as 2/10ths short so I really wanted to run sub-3 at CIM to make sure I had a legit sub-3.)

Fastest Miles:
Mile 26 in 6:34 (flat terrain; 13 seconds faster than my avg pace)
Mile 25 in 6:37 (flat terrain; 10 seconds faster than my avg pace)

Slowest Mile: Miles 12, 15, and 22 in 6:54 (only 7 seconds slower than my avg pace)

Half Splits: 1:28:51/1:29:07 (16 second positive split)

Last 10K (mile 20 to finish) in 41:49 (6:40/mile pace or 7 sec/mile faster than my avg pace)... which interesting enough, was my goal pace for the entire marathon.

Age-graded calculator = 73.81%, my best marathon yet, but still less than the +75% marks I’ve hit for some shorter races (mile race in Aug at 78.1%; 5K in Sept at 75.6%; 10K in Oct at 76.2%, 10-miler in Oct at 77.4%).

CIM is one of the absolute finest marathons I’ve ever run. Very well organized. Everything went smoothly… buses, a bajillion port-a-potties, great water stations, very visible mile markers, no snafus at all.

The course was wonderful. It’s a gentle rolling route mostly through open-air yards and fields speckled with trees adorned in fall colors. Very few turns. The hills are neither long nor steep, but any advantage of a slight net downhill is negated by plenty of rollers, more so on the first half of the course. Despite the hills, the course has less elevation drop than Boston and is certified as a course for qualifying for the U.S. Olympic trials (not that I can run within 30 minutes of that standard).

Really enjoyed the entire weekend with running friends. I flew up and back and split a room with a new colleague at CBU who was also running CIM. Great to hang out with him all weekend. Also enjoyed a great pre-race pasta dinner on Saturday with a big group of running friends in town for CIM. They ran some great, great races including some big PR's and some age-group podium finishes.

Afterward I was in a lot of pain... severe lower back pain. Riding the school bus up to the start (30+ minutes), I sat over the “wheel hump” with my knees up near my chest. I could feel my rear end cramping and I would shift and move to try to prevent that but the bus was crowded.

After getting off the bus, I didn't think any more of it... until late in the race. In the closing miles, I started feeling the twinges of glute and lower back pain, something I rarely feel when running. But I’ve strained my lower back enough in the past from lifting heavy objects that I know what this feeling is. But fortunately, my back never seized up... nor did I slow down... my fastest 2 miles were my last 2 miles.

But as soon as I crossed the finish line and started walking, Wow. OUCH! Serious back pain. Serious sharp lower back and glute pain. I could hardly walk (no exaggeration). I had to take baby steps. My legs (quads, calves, hammies) were fine... tired but not cramping. But wow, the back pain was really severe. It was all I could do to hobble through the finishing chutes, see some people, get some food, and then catch a cab back to the hotel. I'm really, really glad it didn't ruin my race. If I had stopped for any minor reason (tie a shoe, get water), it easily could've seized up then and I would've DNF'ed (seriously)... or added 30-40 minutes on my time walking the last mile alone.

My goal throughout my training cycle was 2:55 (6:40 pace). Until the last week before the taper, I realized that probably wouldn’t be attainable since my MP runs were averaging ~6:45. But right before Thanksgiving, I started hitting LT, mile repeat, and MP miles that projected a time faster than 2:55. So my goal was 2:55.

But on Sunday, in the opening few miles on the rolling hills, I could tell that pace would be too fast and I backed off some. I think from my splits, I paced it about as perfectly as possible for my fitness level on that very day... neither too aggressive nor too conservative. In fact, as I look at the splits in the race results, no one passed me in the second half of the course (well, a few did temporarily).

On Friday before I left for Sacramento, as I walked my son to elementary school, this conversation took place:
Me: “You know, in 48 hours I’ll be running my marathon. My goal for this one is 2:55. I think I can do it… it’ll be tough, but I think I can.”
Son: “I don’t think you’ll make it.”
Me (chuckling): “Really? Why not?”
Son: “Well, last time, you ran perfectly and barely got 2:59. I don’t see you progressing that fast. So I think something more like 2:57 or 2:58.”
Me (still chuckling at his analysis): “Oh you think so?”
Son: “Yeah.”
Well, now I wonder if he knows my running capabilities better than I do....

Thanks for reading.

A few pictures:

Pre-race dinner at Paesano's in Sacramento. The legs around that table ran 200+ miles the next day, including two 2:38's, one 2:42, two age-group awards, and five PR's. Seated left going clockwise: John L, Julie, Elisa, Susan, John H, Dan, Charlie, myself, and Laurent.

Over 8,000 runners dart out from the start line near Folsom Lake... 26.2 miles in the distance is downtown Sacramento and the finish line at the state capitol.

The route is a wonderful point-to-point course with light rolling hills from Folsom Lake to the state capitol.

Somewhere on the course.

Somewhere else on the course.

Somewhere else on the course.

Mile 20 is marked creatively by the appearance of a brick wall. Fortunatley, I had trained well, fueled up well, and paced the race well so I never felt "the wall" on Sunday.

Somewhere else on the course.

In mile 21, the course crosses this bridge on the American River, the last bit of uphill with only 5 more miles to go.

Running strong through the finish in a new personal best time.

Another angle of me at the finish.

Talking with my friends, John Hill (2:38) and John Loftus (2:42) who each placed second in their age groups at the finish line at CIM... of course, both of them finished, stood around for a while, went back to their hotels, showered, ate lunch, caught a movie, and then came back to greet me as I finished. And I appreciate them wrapping up in thermal blankets so at least they looked tired when they greeted me....

The creative design for the finisher's medal... a footprint with the shape of the state in it.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

5,280' of Pain and Oxygen Debt

SoCal USATF Road Mile Championships at El Toro Airfield (Irvine, CA)

I have never run an official mile race other than HS or college gym classes. I don’t even remember my precise time. I think I ran ~6:00 in college. Not sure.

This Road Mile Championship is a brand new race for the SoCal area, and one that I hope will remain for years to come. Most any runner likes to know what they can run for just one single mile... no string attached... nothing but racing one single mile. And this was a true race. No one was thinking about just finishing. Everyone was thinking... how fast.

And the old El Toro Airfield was the perfect venue for this race... cool weather (even in August) and one flat, straight runway for takeoff. The USATF had done this event right. The course was measured to precision with time clocks at every quarter. There would be 16 races separated by age and gender... complete with computer chip timing.

Since I’ve been 5K training this summer towards the Santa Monica 5000 in mid-Sept, this race came at a perfect time on the calendar for me. I haven’t done this much high-intensity, short-rep speedwork in years... if ever. But unfortunately, 10 days ago, I bruised my ribs pretty bad and missed 5 days of running (including DNS’ing a 5K last weekend). My ribs are still sore, but not enough now to keep from running and racing today.

I wasn’t sure what kind of time to target for a race this short (especially with bruised ribs). I haven’t run a race shorter than 10K in years. I just knew it would be 5,280’ of pain... and some severe oxygen debt. I just didn’t want to make it any worse by going out too fast in the opening quarter.

My goal was to run sub-5:30... and my A-goal was actually 5:20. I figured I’d attempt splits in 80 and just try to hang on for the 5:20. But I still felt that’d be too fast. Maybe I better shoot for quarters in 82 and go for 5:29.

I warmed up by jogging down the runway to the starting line in the distance with my youngest daughter... one of my favorite parts of the morning... nothing like doing a warm-up mile with my daughter down a runway in the middle of nowhere. :-) As we ran that long straightaway, I thought... “Daggum, a straight mile is one heckuva long distance!” This was nothing like a mile on the track. I could barely spot the finish line from the start line. Sheesh!

After we got to the starting line, she walked on back to momma and her brother and sister while I jogged around waiting for the start of my race. It was really nice knowing I had my own little cheering section back at the finish line. Normally, they don’t go to my races because there’s rarely any race I run near home.

About 8:40am, it was time for me to line up with the Open Masters Men (40+). I wasn’t sure how competitive this race would be since there was also an Elite Masters Men race (QT was sub-5:30) after mine. I should’ve signed up for the Elite race, but I wrongly presumed that an official QT was necessary (which it wasn’t). So I wasn’t sure how competitive it would be in the Open Masters race.

The gun went off, and we took off. I was in about 6th or 7th place and by the quarter I was in 5th place. Coming up on the quarter, I see the clock ticking 1:08... 1:09... 1:10... 1:11... 1:12... 1:13... Ruh roh... a bit too fast! But I was feeling ok. Just keep steady.

I wore my GPS/HR monitor (mostly to analyze the data after the race) and glanced at it only a couple of times in the race... it was showing me running at a speed about ~4:56/mile. Yikes! Backed off the accelerator just a tad to prevent an ugly blow up at the end.

I saw the half and three-quarters splits as I ran by, and I remember doing the math in my head thinking... hang on and get that sub-5:20! In the last quarter, wow... oxygen debt... severe oxygen debt... seriously severe oxygen debt... breathe... breathe... breathe... I gradually moved on up into fourth place and then into the third. (Note: discovered in the results, I actually finished 2nd in my race.) Well... I don’t think it was so much that I sped up but that I just hung on better than two of the guys in front of me.

I could see the finish line approaching fast... run... breathe... run... breathe... hang on... here it comes... hang on... yes... 5:08!!!

Ok... whoa... slow down legs... stop... bend over... breathe... breathe... breathe... holy freakin’ cow... breathe....

Wow, I didn’t expect that at all. Seriously. Did I just do that? Wow. My wife and kids run over and congratulate me. They knew I’d be happy with 5:08... and yes I was.

After I caught my breath, I jogged down the runaway as a cool-down and turned around at halfway to come back and see my friend John Loftus finish with the elites. But I messed up and thought his race was 4 races after mine and it was only 2. As I was jogging back towards the finish, I looked to my side and here comes John. He was kicking towards the finish and I missed my chance to photograph him. Saw him finish in 4:57. That’s huge. Sub-5 and he’s ten years older than me. Huge congrats, John, on the PR. Sorry I didn’t get a pic of you.

Good day. After examing my GPS file, I realize I ran a much more even-paced race than I initially thought:

Quarter split, total time, avg HR, max HR, quarter distance (GPS distance):
0:00, 0:00, 110, 110, 0m (0m)
1:16, 1:16, 148, 174, 402m (413.7m)
1:17, 2:33, 165, 182, 804m (808.2m)
1:18, 3:51, 170, 187, 1206m (1204.9m)
1:17, 5:08, 174, 190, 1608m (1614.0m)

It felt really bizarre and surreal to run a race this short. Now I'm really looking forward to the Santa Monica 5000... and doing this mile race again next year. Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Drinking the Kool-Aid: My First Ultra-Marathon

I've wanted to do this for years, but it never fit into my schedule until now... my first attempt pushing the envelope beyond 26 miles, 385 yards... my first ultra-marathon... the Holcomb Valley Trail Race (33 miler).

Where? The mtns above Big Bear, 99% trails and fire roads... ~15 miles on the Pacific Crest Trail.

Elevation? ~3,850' net elev gain and drop... low point (start/finish) at 6,750'... high point (~mile 8) at 8,212'... 6 climbs to high points on the route.

Weather? Ideal... 50s at the start and 60s at the finish... bright sunny day... about 50/50 with shade/exposure on the route.

Why now? Good timing. I finally got that sub-3 marathon burden off my back. Time to try something new... and I love the mountains.

Training? I piggy-backed my training off of my winter and spring marathon training in which I ran 3 marathons in a matter of 12 weeks (somewhat unintentionally) culminating with marathon PR at the OC Marathon on May 2 in 2:59:28. Basically, I recovered for about 8 days and started training hard again. My key workouts for each of the next 3 weeks were:
• 6-mile tempo run at lactate threshold (6:34 pace then 6:23 then 6:21 then 6:24)
• tough longish (15-17 miles) run on big hills (~1000' elevation gain)
• b2b long runs (20/11 then 22/16 then 25/20)

Main goal: since I've never run farther than 26.2 miles, I wasn't sure how my body would respond in the final 7 miles. So my main goal was not to overdo it and finish strong without limping across the line in a death march. Goal accomplished. I ran a neg split (2:38/2:35) and my fastest mile was my last mile. (Here's my Garmin file which gives all the data on mile splits, HR, elevation, map, etc.)

I had no idea what to target as a time goal since this race was considerably farther than I had ever run and it involved big climbs and downhills... on trails (which can be tricky with rocks and roots)... and at altitude (all between 6,750' and 8,212'). But these were my "sketchy" goals:
Time Goal A: sub-5:00 (~9:00/mile pace)? This was so far-fetched I didn't mention it to anyone... but it sure would have been nice. Fwiw, only two runners ran sub-5 this year. Jorge Pacheco (a fast, elite ultra-runner who won Badwater 2008!) won the race and broke his own course record in 4:13. Second place finished 43 minutes behind him (!!!). I was a full 60 minutes behind the winner, but only 17 minutes from second place.
Time Goal B: sub-5:19 (essentially sub-5hrs for 50K... a very tough goal). Since this race was an odd distance (33 miles), not a standard ultra distance (like 50K, 50 miles, etc.), I thought it'd be cool to hit this mark. Goal accomplished. I looked at my Garmin when it read 16.5 miles (halfway) and I was at 2:38 (on pace for a 5:16 finish). I hoped I wouldn't fade at the end... but I just didn't know... and fortunately I didn't.
Time Goal C: sub-5:30 (~10:00/mile pace). Based on past results for this race, I figured this would probably get me into the top 10 overall... and it did... 6th overall and 1st in the M40-49 age-group (well, technically, 3rd AG... but the other 2 got overall awards and there was no "double dipping").

Race plan:
• Gels and an Endurolyte capsule (sodium & electrolytes) every 4 miles.
• Carry a handheld bottle and refill it at the 7 aid stations.
• Try to avoid overdoing it too early so that the end doesn't become a cramped-up death march.
• Wasn't sure what heart-rate zone I should target since this involved steep climbs at altitude. Planned to target 148-150 to avoid an ugly crash and burn at the end. A mile into the race, I had already abandoned that plan and targeted 158-160 (essentially my target HR zone for OCM)... and it worked out ok. My avg HR for the entire race ended up being 159... and I finished strong so my adjusted plan worked.

About my race:

The race had a staggered start of four waves started every 2 minutes to avoid too many runners clogging up the trails at once. The waves were seeded so the fastest runners were in the first wave. I was disappointed to be seeded in the fourth and final wave (since I had never run an ultra)... but that actually turned out great. At the end, when I was running near anyone, I knew I had either a 4- or 6-minute lead on them depending on whether they were in the first or second wave. :-)

Opening 3 miles were a steep climb... had to do some power-hiking even within the first mile to avoid spiking my HR too early. I didn't mind if people passed me at that point, I knew I could pass them back by the end... and I did... since I started in the fourth wave, I passed everyone except only the 5 people who finished ahead of me.

In the opening 6-8 miles, I couldn't find a nice steady pace... I was either going too fast and my HR was climbing or too slow and my HR was dropping too low. Finally, I caught up to some other runners about my pace (from an earlier wave) and that helped steady my pace... one of whom I ran with for ~12 miles on the PCT. I asked him if he minded that I followed him since this was my first ultra and was trying not to overdo it. He didn't mind. We talked a little bit. Around mile 21 on some climbs I ended up getting ahead of him. After the finish, he came up and congratulated me on my race and informed me that I won our age-group. I thanked him repeatedly for letting me tail him for all those middle miles and also thanked him for saving my race or else I would have crashed and burned for sure. I really owe my AG award to him.

I also learned the hard way that while trail running, don't follow the runner in front of you too closely... you gotta be able to see the rocks and roots coming up. Around mile 8 or 9, I took quite a tumble (nearly down a steep ravine) when I tripped on a rock. I cut up my right knee pretty good... but it's not a trail race until you fall... :-) And I must say, I saw more runners than not who had taken a spill during the race. Lots of battle scars.

The race went remarkably smoothly for me. I don't have time to tell about all the sights and sounds today. Suffice it to say, ultra-runners are interesting folks. And the route was amazing. Great views of Big Bear Lake from high up and also Holcomb Valley, the High Desert... and even the ghost town of Belleville. In 1860, the town had grown to 10,000 people and came within 2 votes of becoming the county seat of San Bernardino County during the (smaller) southern California gold rush. All that remains is a few old mine shafts, a log cabin, and "Hangman's Tree" where justice was meted out in this rough town.

What's next?
I always like a challenge. Some of my running friends think that since I've succumbed to the dark side of running and have run an ultra, now I'll be signing up for a 50- or 100-miler soon... well, not so fast. Yes, I finally drank the kool-aid and found myself part of the ultra-running cult... but I have no immediate plans to go farther... at least, not yet. 33 miles was plenty for me right now. Since I've (unintentionally) run a marathon (or more) in each of the four local counties this year (Diamond Valley Marathon in Riverside Co.; LAM in Los Angeles Co., OCM in Orange Co.; and now the HV33 in San Bernardino Co.), I'm gonna set aside the longer stuff for a few months and work on the shorter stuff... namely, speedwork for 5K/10K... something that's long overdue. And then I hope to arun the Cal International Marathon in Sacramento in December.

And I'd like to dedicate my first ultra-marathon to my friends Jay and Anita Finkle who are amazing ultra-runners who regularly run 100-milers. All the best to both of you, especially with the new challenge you're facing. You two are a great inspiration!