Monday, April 7, 2014

2014 American River 50 Race Report

Intro
American River is the site of my fastest 50 miler (link) and my worst DNF (link) so both close and far from my heart.  I love going back because I feel like a course veteran and lets be honest a sweet Patagonia Running jacket for finishers is pretty awesome.  This year it was a Nine Trails Jacket and it always feels better to wear it because it was earned not purchased. 

I recently picked up a part-time job in my hometown of Monrovia.  I am a law student so finding a job that works with my schedule is near impossible and driving back down to Irvine was not feasible anymore.  My boss accommodated my schedule to work for me so I did not want to miss a shift and leave them out to dry on a busy night.  Thus, a collegiate style road trip would be the play.  Luckily I convinced Christina to come.  

Knowing AR50 this year is part of a building plan for the Angeles Crest 100 I felt confident that I could finish, but in the back of my mind really wanted to push it.  We left Los Angeles around 9:30 pm we drove straight from Folsom.  My friend Kristin who has crewed for me at Headlands & AR50 and just overall awesome came through again in a huge way.  She picked up my race bib and packet a few days before the race and we met up at 4:45 am Saturday morning not only to give me the packet but to crew as well.  Christina drove a heavy (read as: boring) part of the Grapevine so I could sneak in 2 hours of sleep so having Kristin there to help was a lifesaver.

The team was set...Kristen, Christina, Vista & Jazzy made up my sleep deprived enthusiastic crew.  Of course Vista and Jazzy were present for moral support and slobbery kisses but I gotta count them…

Gear
Buff Headwear
Oakley Radar
Salomon Men's Exo Wings Twinskin Running Short
Drymax Trail Socks
New Balance MT1010
Hoka Mafate
Ultimate Direction Handhelds (review)
Tailwind Nutrition (review)

GPS Maps
Garmin Link
Strava Link

Start Line - Main Bar (16.98)

In years past the first half was a road marathon followed by the meat grinder (Granite Bay (29.45) to Rattlesnake Bar (40.94)) and then you hoped you saved enough for the 3 mile “Cardiac Hill” climb at the end.  Mid-packers like me could go out quickly and get into good conga lines with faster guys on the back end of the front.  The speeders would drop us during the last 10 but were a huge motivation and help working together through the meat grinder.  The race favored the brave because the road marathon was a steady uphill climb to Beal’s Point where the trail took over.  This year the course favored the intelligent and destroyed the foolish.

The race started on the east bank of Folsom Lake, looped down towards Main Bar.  Miles 6-12 were downhill road and for the fools like me a great way to thrash the quads early (which I of course did).  All info on the race noted runners would see a lot more trail early in the race, so I decided to run in my New Balance MT1010s.  At the start I hustled quickly to get with a good pack so I would not get stranded in no man’s land but I should have been patient.  The MT1010’s were excellent on trails letting me stay light on my feet while providing traction but this was AR50 and there was still plenty of road.  Minimal was a mistake.

By the time I got to the Negro Bar Aid station my feet felt beat and my right foot pinky toe decided that splitting open at the bend was a good thing; needless to say my feet were falling apart in a hurry.  Rather than waiting till Beal’s Point I changed into Hoka Mafate hoping to salvage my feet for the remainder of the run.  I knew then that my pace was too fast to hold onto it for very long and when the pounding my joints had taken came back with cramps I would need extra cushion if I hoped to finish.

Negro Bar (20.18) - Rattlesnake Bar (40.94)



My marathon time was 4:17 which is only a few minutes slower than I ran in the Los Angeles Marathon (link) a few weeks earlier.  Clearly a bad sign especially knowing the tough sections that came on the back end.  I suffered most from Granite Bay to Rattlesnake.  That section, approx. 10 miles, I was getting passed left and right and often had to stop to let other runners pass me.  It was very disheartening to simply not have the legs to keep up.  The lack of sleep and fatigue really set in during that section.  Also, I love technical trails with a light shoe, but the Hoka Mafate protected my feet but also dulled the sensation underfoot.  What resulted was that I became tenuous with my steps and less sure footed further slowing my pace.
Leaving Beal's Point

The section is known as the “meat grinder” is tricky because its beautiful but the moment you stop paying attention to your footing you go down in an epic way.

I'll admit I did ask for Glenfiddich for my water bottles at Horseshoe Bar (38.14) and that got a few volunteers smiling.  Seeing them laugh was nice because the day had heated up for everyone and they worked so hard to keep all of us healthy and hydrated.

From Horseshoe Bar to Rattlesnake Bar I was pretty low on myself.  My nutrition, 200 calories of Tailwind Nutrition, per bottle and one bottle per hour kept my energy steady but my muscles just were not doing what my brain asked.  At one point a cramp turned my leg slamming my knee right into a rock. I fell a few times and anything more than a shuffle caused my hamstrings to throb.  I had an overwhelming sense of self doubt and darkness.  I tried to talk myself out of it but as various packs of runners passed me all I could think about was how I was unable to keep up despite my steady energy...the legs felt smashed and I could not do anything about it.

Dowdins Post (43.92) - Finish (50)

I am normally not a favor-asker when I pray because I have been given so much its almost unfair of me to ask for more.  But mile 43.92 (Dowdin’s Post Aid Station) I knew this was crunch time and if there was going to be a "back from the dead moment" it was there.  My internal dialogue went from a pep talk to a chastisement.  

All day my crew was solid.  The longest I spent in an aid station was 3 minutes while changing shoes.  My nutrition was on point and suffered no energy lulls note lightheadedness.  Sure I was beat, tired, sore and fatigued but if you aren’t then you’re not doing ultra marathons right.  How fortunate am I that I get to complain about running on beautiful trails with really nice people on a beautiful day?  I mean come on, how dare I.

I asked Our Lady of Guadalupe to help a brown man out.  I remember saying…Mother Mary please tell your son to let my cramps go away and let me finish this thing up, I know I am not high on the priority list but I really would appreciate the help if you have a spare second.  I started to pray the Ave Maria (in latin) and my leg seized up…I stopped hobbled, then bagan to pray in spanish and things loosened up.  I chuckled and everything got better.  My legs hurt but it was not unbearable, I was able to shuffle along consistently.  

I tried talking to other runners going up cardiac hill, heck I even saw a guy from Headlands 100 on the way up, he ran a huge chunk of it and looked like a stud.  I got super excited to see folks smiling knowing that the end was near.  The Last Gasp aid station (47.56) I was able to sponge some of the sweat off that was by this point white dust on my face making my eyes burn.  That ice cold sponge was heaven.  I managed to jog the last few hundred yards and teared up as complete strangers cheered for me and encouraged me to get past the finish line...


my prayer was answered…my muscle cramps did not vanish but the cramp that prevented me from smiling sure did.

Official Finish Time - 9:58:00



Tuesday, March 11, 2014

2014 Los Angeles Marathon Race Report

Introduction
The last time the LA marathon was part of my schedule was in 2012.  I ran a good race but the event left me wishing for better organization and more effective crowd management for the hefty price tag.  This year a friend of mine had to skip LA, not wanting the entry to go to waste she gave it to me so I was able to take part of the 30th LA Marathon and things are better.

The LA Marathon fit perfectly in my schedule for American River 50, it would be a supported training run with 20,000 of my closest friends...what else can you ask for?

Gear
Buff Visor
Oakley Radar Sunglasses
Garmin 910XT
Patagonia Silk Tech Tee (AR50)
North Face Better than Naked Shorts
Drymax Socks
Newton All Weather (discontinued_similar to Gravity)

LA GARMIN LINK (4:13:06)

Race Prep
Sunday fast approached and my legs felt as strong as they could.  Unfortunately, this semester has been more difficult than anticipated and my days have become very sedentary.  Yet, the week of LA produced a few good runs where I PR'd local hill segments on Strava and pushed some faster miles where possible.

I felt confident the 4 hour-ish range for the marathon was a reasonable expectation.  My concern was nutrition.  I train with Tailwind Nutrition and I love it.  The expected high temperatures and readily available water stops made me choose to run with a handheld so I could spray myself to keep cool as the day heated up.  The trade off of this strategy having only two bottles (4 scoops) of tailwind which would cover the first half then I would be relying on the cooling effect and whatever aid available on course.

Race Day 

1 - 13.1
I forgot my iPod Shuffle !!!

I avoid speaking with fellow racers during the first half of any race.  I avoid chit chat because it throws me off and rather than running my race I run theirs. Further, I dislike the curbside soapbox preachers with the speakers yelling at runners to "repent" or "run to Jesus."

A huge negative to the organizers were locked porta potties at two point during the race.  Coming into Chinatown (about 5 miles) there was a string of locked porta potties which angered 50% of the pack I was in.   Guys just resorted to peeing outside of them and the ladies...well they were just out of luck.  That was a failure of the part of the organizers.

Without my iPod to drown out the sound my strategy was to repeat different mantra's during the first part of the race and zero in on just clearing my mind and imagining smoothness.  The plan worked, and I came to half way that seems to have worked well.  I came to the half way point around 2 hours, well within my 4 hour ish goal.

The day heated up as expected.  The last 2 times I had ran the LA Marathon there was a lot more shedding of clothes in the first 5 miles.  The 2014 running most runners did not bother because the temperatures were pleasant to run in.  The first few miles did have a slight breeze that became a warmth blanket a little passed half way.

13.1 - 26.2
My nutrition is generally at least 22-24 oz of fluid per hour regardless of temperature and increased as temps go up.  By mile 20 I had only completely refilled my bottle twice.  Thats not good, not good at all, but that fact did not click till mile 20.

At mile 20 I saw a guy who I had been trading spots with in the earlier miles getting his chest compressed and irresponsive lying on the pavement.  That image sent shivers through me.  I said a quick prayer and seeing the medics on site helping him out was good, but that could just as easily be me.  My brain changed from time goal to training run.  My friend was kind enough to give me her entry because she knows I am running American River 50 in April so why crush myself?  When I changed my mind and  adapted I ran smoother.


The last 10k I decided to enjoy the experience and it was awesome.  I did get pretty emotional seeing some families cheering wildly for their friends, siblings, parents, etc...so wonderful that they could be inspired and inspire their friends with their enthusiasm and support.

I spoke with a dozens of runners but two stood out.  One was a woman wearing a pick top, purple shorts and an Ironman Tattoo on her calf.  We ran the same pace for the first 15 miles.  I stopped to use the restroom and lost her and tried to catch her because her pace and form were solid and similar to mine.

I also enjoyed running near her because she would cheer everyone on at random times.  I felt like she was a marathoner with a trail runner attitude; she was thanking volunteers and spectators and really motivational to everyone around her.  I caught up with her at mile 23...cramps.  She was power walking.  I thanked her for the motivation earlier in the race and lamented the fact she got cramps because she was running well.  She just smiled, thanked me for noticing and just chalked it up to not being her day...then told me to run it out and finish strong.

The second was a kid who could not have been older that 14 or 15.  Around mile 25, my calf cramped a little so I moved to the right and walked.  30 seconds later I felt a tap on my shoulder...the SRLA kid smiled and said...hey, only a mile left you can do this.  That smile got me moving.

Finish Time 4:13:06

Conclusion
I really liked the improvements to the corrals.  They did not just have the fences open on both sides, but instead had one entry with a buffer zone.  The volunteers only allowed runners into the corral they signed up for.  I did not appreciate locked porta-potties, but I am a guy and I am sure the ladies can comment more on that...but the take away from 2014 LA26.2...

Even if its not your day finish strong. You can do this.



Thursday, February 6, 2014

Tailwind Nutrition Review

Introduction
First of all full disclose.  Unlike the big companies Tailwind (Link) did not go out and pay professional athletes to speak for them.  Instead they asked a few of us early customers to share our stories and how our training has gone after using the product.  I am so proud of promoting this product because it works for me and they are good people.  I am an average guy doing extraordinary things because my friends and family support me and help me through the rough patches.  I consider the folks at Tailwind Nutrition my friends.

The Other Products
I have tried the gamut of endurance products: GU, Hammer, PowerGEL, Cliff Shots, Vitargo, s-caps, etc.  As a rookie researching different approaches to nutrition became a part time job.  As race day arrives every athlete faces the same nutritional dilemma : (1) train with the stuff they have on course or (2) plan drop bags to use my own.

Some companies focused on carbohydrate/protein combos while others focused on electrolyte balance.  The third type of company is straight business.  This one invests heavily in research and then divide and conquer.  Athletes, convinced by studies and research need to purchase multiple products to cover every facet of their race day needs.  The endurance fuel, performance fuel, salt and mineral replacement, amino acids, etc.  The divide and conquer approach is not only expensive but if you forget one part of your nutrition your head is out of it and there goes the race plan. 

GELS
24 Pack of GU - $ 30 
24 Pack of GU Roctane - $ 50
24 Pack of Clif Shots - $ 26
24 Pack of Hammer Gel - $ 30

POWDERS
32 Servings of Perpetuem - $ 50
35 Servings of GU BREW - $25
Vitargo s2 (1.7 lbs. per label 10 servings per container) - $ 30

ELECTROLYTES
GU Brew Electrolyte Tube (12) - $ 6.60
Hammer Endurolytes Fizz (13) - $ 5

PILLS
S-Caps (100) - $ 18
Hammer Endurolytes (120) - $ 20
Saltstick (100) - $ 20

TAILWIND
50 servings of Tailwind Nutrition - $ 35

(Note: not an exhaustive list but just a few of the more popular ones)

Racing is one of the most exciting times for me.  I love the feeling of lining up with my friends and suffering with them.  We each have our personal demons to battle and choose to engage them out there…wherever “there” may be that weekend.  But, racing comes second to law school.  Books and supplies are significantly higher on the priority chart than nutrition and race day no matter how much I love it.  As the song goes, if it doesn’t make dollars it doesn’t make sense.

During an ultra-marathon runners consume 250-300 calories per hour; gels translate to $2.50 - $ 4.00 per hour!  Figure is not including salt pills, gummy chews or anything else.  

I was listening to a podcast a few years ago and the hosts raved about a new product.  The company was small but focused on customer service and delivered on their promises…a product thats inexpensive, easy and works.  

Those magic words...the most beautiful aria to my ears.  I was skeptical but their site assured me.  If you take the “Tailwind Challenge” and it doesn't make you stronger, happier, and less stressed during training and at your next event we’ll reimburse you up to $150 of your entry fee (link).  I signed up right away because I figured if the training and race go south I want to be first in line to collect.

The package arrived with a personalized note wishing me well at the Headlands 100. (Race Report Link)  I received 4 bags of powder and the promise it would remove the “GI” issues and keep me out there longer.  Each bag is 50 servings ($ 0.70 per serving) each serving equivalent to 100 calories (same as a gel).  The idea was combine hydration and nutrition into an easily digestible practical solution.  You simply mix the product with the water and thats it.  Further it already included electrolytes in the serving so literally all you need is already there.

I am not knocking other companies nor their products.  I appreciate the marketing and information that other companies put out there because it lets athletes know we are not alone.  There are companies that are working hard to keep us strong and fit while we engage in our chosen sport.  

While using other products I did get faster and more in tune with my body.  I actually still carry spare gels because Tailwind is a white powder when I run in downtown Los Angeles. (no one wants to explain to a police officer why you are busting out a plastic bag full of a white powder).

Here are some of the major differences I found…

Other Products:
- Expensive
- More trash (wrappers)
- Energy Spikes 5-10 minutes after consumption (gels)
- Energy Lows once the spike wears off
- Difficult to remember when to take them (gels)
- Difficulty stomaching them after a few hours 
- Texture, some felt like peanut butter and running in the heat that’s gross
- No Electrolytes, needed additional pills to cover that
- Pills get sweaty or lost on the trails, or you run out (see Bulldog 50k Report)
- Salt pills must be taken with plenty of water or your are pretty much killing yourself
- stomach issues (you know what I mean)
- Some Gels, if not consumed with water = cramping ensues b/c body is trying to digest
- Timing - needed to consume nutrients while I had water so hot days were especially troubling

Tailwind
- Dissolves into water leaving no clunky stuff
- easy, cheap
- thoughtless (2 scoops for every 24 oz)
- includes electrolytes
- Able to consume in the heat and cold
- Have made it into Tea (yeah thats right TEA !!!)
- Proven - 2 sunrises, 33+ hours and i could still drink it (link)

Conclusion
Tailwind works for me.  For a lot of athletes the gels and other products work so stick to them.  The standard products are efficient, easily available and time tested by professional athletes so its a safe bet.  Arguments can be made for sticking to them and never changing it up, but I experiment especially after having problems and a DNF due to nutrition. (LINK - AR50 DNF)

Anyone who has suffered from stomach issues during a race and is looking for an easily digested fuel source would be doing themselves a disservice by not trying Tailwind.  The company is nice and personalize your order, not to mention sending you a good luck email a few days before your race.  The little things can change a season and for me this product has earned its keep.  Good luck in your racing.






Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Rookie AC100 Training Run

Last weekend opting to skip the Sean O'Brien 26.2 race because I am not ready to race.  Jean was kind enough to connect me with a group that was going out to Angeles Crest; so why not?  Seems like a good idea...

Inspiration Point - Eagles Roost (elevation profile)
The run would cover 20 miles from Inspiration Point to Eagles Roost venturing to the highest point of the race.  Never having covered any part of the AC100 course the group run was a great way of seeing this technical section and gaining insight from experienced AC100 veterans.


I was already waiting when Jack, Kimberly and Ben arrived at inspiration point.  I got there early and the 20 degree with windchill temperatures were unpleasant to say the least.  My mind was dead set on AC100 = Heat.  Angeles Crest 100 is famous for is beautiful views and the brutal heat that only southern California can muster.  Waking up early to get out to inspiration my mind was in heat training mode.  Thus, I show up in shorts and a tech tee to take on Mount Baden Powell (link) in the winter, rookie.
Mount Baden Powell

Luckily Kimberly had an extra pair of gloves and Jack had an extra windbreaker.  Remember, I had never met this group of runners ever !!!  Rather than saying, oh well, you're toast... they unselfishly provided anything they had to help a stranger out... ultra running culture.  Without the wool gloves and windbreaker I would have either frozen on the trail or just gotten back in the car.  Our group would would catch up to Tin later because he was hiking Vincent Gap to Eagles Roost.

Note to self, do not watch Angeles Crest 100 videos then head out to the mountains in the cold...although it was sort of cool having other hikers gasp and ask if I was crazy.



^^^Awesome video of Dominic Grossman taking the 2013 AC100 win. (his blog Link)

The run was a joy and delivered on the promise of spectacular views and technical trails.  My legs were not ready for the combination of rocky switchbacks and slick slabs of ice but enjoyed them regardless.  Also, I was shocked to find my water tube frozen solid when I attempted to drink.  Jack suggested I put the pack under the windbreaker and after a few miles I was able to get my Tailwind Nutrition (link).

Jack, Ben and Kimberly were awesome tutors and gave me pointers for this section of the course come race day.  I am definitely going to hit Mount Baden Powell and Mount Williamson again, but I will most certainly check the weather.

Lessons:
1. shorts are a bad idea in Angeles National Forest Dec - Feb.
2. Check the weather
3. Little Jimmy Springs is a life saver


4. Dont trust the course map and get out on the trails