Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Calico Trail Run 30k - Race Report

Hat – PRS Fit Race Cap
Sunglasses – Oakley Radar (expected wind and dust, kind of toolish at 7 am, but whatever kept the dirt out of my eyes, and I looked like billy badass)
Tech Tee – 3 Non Joggers (Runners Reward Brand – comfortable)
Shorts: North Face Cardiac (because I was unfamiliar with the course and thought it prudent wear a longer shorts than my patagonia long haulers)
Sox: Nike
Shoes: Hoka OneOne Mafate (was going to run in my Altra LonePines, but I opted for a shoe I had run longer distances in already)
Arm Warmers: Moeben Arm Sleeves (warm against morning wind and in heat dunked in h20 = heaven)
Hydration: 2 Ultimate Direction Handhelds (Review)
30km Time: 3:36:22
The plan was to run this race last year as a training run for the LA Marathon. An injury sidelined me from that and the Race Director was kind enough to let me roll my entry over to this year. I originally had heard of this race via Stuart’s Quadrathon blog, check out his review and pics of the 50km race. This year I would have gone for the 50k race, but I am very glad I didn’t. This race felt good, I was slower than expected but it was not for lack of effort so here goes.

This race is about a 2 hour drive from LA unless you camp out at the site. Having a prior commitment the night before driving was the play. It was a tough to wake up at 3:30 am when you had been out till 1 am but as they say “there ain’t no rest for the wicked”. I had been hydrating all night and feeling good with the taper week. Saturday I did a 10 miler intending a 3 miler…accidentally got lost in Irvine so this was going to be a back to back. Arrived at Calico Ghost Town start/finish area approximately 6 am, 25 min power nap prior to start and we are off to the races. 250 yards from the line I remembered; forgot iPod, forgot BodyGlide, Only 3 Gels, ah... FML.
There was no were only three aid stations for the 30km at roughly the 10km distances so I will break down the race in the same way.

First leg - 10k
Race started quickly downhill right away out of the ghost town onto the road.  This downhill section was about 2 miles of road and flat trails. I felt strong like bull. Ha, just wanted to say that; but once we hit the trails the game changed. The trails were a sandy gradual uphill that seemed to go on forever. Sand 1-2 inches evenly across the trail (about as wide as a jeep) and shoes sunk right in. The problem was not so much the sand instead it was running form. I started lagging and not raising my knees and sand found my shoe soles.  Naturally this could have been avoided with gaiters but those are nice and clean in a drawer at home. Over the course of the race I would end up stopping 5 or 6 times to get stuff out of my shoes.
Mile 5 my glut reminded me that I am not invincible no matter how good I feel. I was running strong and feeling great, but a pull in my lower back/glut flared up. I had this pull a few weeks ago and felt recovered but I was committed by this point just had to grind it out and hope for some endorphins a.s.a.p. (took 17 km for my back to loosen up).
I was hydrating well, approximately 25-30 oz per hour and a gel every 30 minutes and an s-cap every hour. Arriving at the first aid station I saw smiling faces and a beautiful spread. PB&J Sandwich squares, M&Ms, bananas, jelly beans, soda, but oddly enough no gels. I did not think about it and figured there would be some at the next aid station and just refilled and took off.  

Much of the course was like this (this is towards the end)
Second 10k
I really got a surge of energy here. I just focused on keeping it consistent and trying to hold my spot in the field. The first 10k had seen a few runners pass me and I was determined to grind it out. With no music to motivate me I just focused on whatever runner was in front and would occasionally look back to avoid trying to get caught. According to the Garmin at 1.7 ish miles we started our climb and we did not hit a downhill until 10.5; that amigos is a slow albeit subtle death.
There were some rollers but still very much in the upward direction. Got to aid station and really did not stay long. I could not see any runners for a few hundred yards but then at the aid station they seemed to be just hanging out. I was in race mode so I wanted to distance myself as much as I could, so kept on truckin. 
Image Courtesy of: http://laurenontherun.blogspot.com
Third 10k
There was a fork in the road directing the 50k left and the 30k right, I went right. I was tempted by the 50k but the sand had taken a lot out of my legs so I knew it was just time to wrap it up. My back pull had loosened up and I felt surprisingly good for the effort I was putting out. The last aid station where you were informed that there were 5 and change miles left. At this aid station I had long run out of my gels since I was taking one every 30ish minutes and I knew my elation at the downhill would wear off soon. So I filled my two handhelds, one half way with Pepsi and the other half way with Gatorade. The cola was not flat so I dealt with an annoying hissing noise for a little while but it really helped me out. It became my gel replacement for that last 5 miles. The canyon section was fun and technical. It started descending and every so often you would get a drop off, def if you are not paying attention you could hurt yourself. This section was technical and probably some of the toughest stuff I have had to run on. I felt very circus like avoiding spills and thanked God every time my toe hit a rock that would have been a black toenail for sure. It was also nice to see a line of jeeps doing rock crawling in our path. Its odd to think that a bunch of crazies were running down rocks they were charging up with 4x4 jeeps and winches.
Image Courtesy of: http://laurenontherun.blogspot.com
About 1 Mile from the Finish - Thanks to Ben Jones for taking the pictures
Finish Line
At the end the race director is kind enough to add steep hill so you make sure not to forget your calico experience, it sucked. I passed the car, dropped my water bottles and proceeded to head up the steep hill. At this point my calfs were cramping and I kept turning back since I was determined not to let anyone pass me (feel free to call upon the Lord of the Rings Gandalf the Grey vs Big horn thing scene for emotional equivalent).

Friday, January 20, 2012

Tim Tebow and Tiger Woods

Now that it has been a few weeks I think I will weigh in on Tebowmania. I am not going to discuss his beliefs nor how nice of a guy he is because those have been talked about ad nausea. I want to take a different approach so here are some facts. Tim Tebow is the starting quarterback for the Denver Broncos. His unorthodox success has caused that franchise to consider changing its direction. John Elway suffers migraines deciding if he is going to make Tebow “his guy.” Both sides of the ball must buy-in…receivers will get less passes but will be expected to make big plays, running backs will get a lot of work and the D will have to keep it close to make it a game. Changes like that do not happen in a season or two and it’s a lot to consider. But aside from all that Tim Tebow himself is a story.

Tim Tebow = quiet but passionate, media savvy, loves his privacy, Christian, Quarterback, white.

I am not going to harp on the race card but you really could not draw him better if you wanted too. His religious convictions and cookie cutter upbringing make him your steak and eggs kind of guy. He is the ultimate friend, athlete, Christian…you name it.  Tim Tebow in my opinion could be the Tiger Woods of our generation.

Tiger Woods = quiet but passionate, media savvy, loves his privacy, Buddhist, golfer, mixed decent.

If you were going to “make” an athlete to break a “golf mold” Tiger Woods was it. He dominated a game where minorities were caddies or grounds keepers and carried himself with a passion unknown to the PGA. He was heavily criticized for his emotional outbursts and going for the impossible shots. A few years passed and because of his success we all expected amazing from Tiger. He would sink the putt to force a playoff or hit his signature “stinger” further than most of us hit our drivers and we would not blink. His coaches became wealthy men just by being associated with him.

The same mold breaking feeling permeated Denver. You expected “divine” intervention every fourth quarter. We all were amazed with the cards falling Tebow’s way for weeks during the season and he gave a franchise a chance when they were pretty much dead in the water. Tebow was a “winner” and found a way to make it happen even when the cards were stacked against him. He won when he was not supposed too, the underdog.

Tiger Woods was great because he worked so much harder than everyone else at the time. His attention to detail and systematic approach to the game is world famous. I read a story that he returned his putter because the sight was off, Scotty Cameron himself had hand built it and what do you know Tiger is right, the dot on the top of his putter was millimeters different than his regular putter. Tiger was winning because he could do amazing every day. He was revolutionizing the game and taking it to the next level. He was athletic and trained with military precision forcing golfers to pick up their games or retire. His greatness was utter dominance, but why is Tim Tebow great?

Tim Tebow is not dominant like Tiger. He did not come to the NFL and just go Joe Montana on us. He has earned his spot by having the intangibles. Dan Patrick on his radio show said that Tim Tebow was not a good quarterback but that he had value. I agree wholeheartedly and know his value is real. Broncos defense and kicker do not get the credit they deserved because the media focused on the myth and aura of Tebow but that’s how it is in the NFL and that’s different topic. The fact is he makes his team better and the numbers don’t lie.

Why do I compare both of these athletes who are so different yet so similar? They lead from the front.

Tiger Woods did things in golf that now are common place. His style and passion were unorthodox at the time. Prior to Tiger raw talent got you pretty far, not anymore. His commitment to excellence and work ethic were not normal. He set the blueprint for young golfers. Work hard on your game and develop your talent. Look at the PGA now? There are tons of young professionals that all look very similar, slim athletic, poised, but hungry for a shot…very Tiger-like. He changed the game by leading from the front.

Tim Tebow can be great. He does things that athletes are not supposed to do like praying and calling on different motivators like a higher power. He is a running back that can occasionally air out a perfect spiral just when it’s a do or die…not normal. Will this wildcat style offense work in the NFL? Who knows. Just because something has been so for a long time does not mean it cannot change. **cough** civil rights, feminism, voting, **cough** Tebow has value and his leadership and work ethic are not in question. But what happens when you work hard but don’t have the dominating ability? Can you still be great? I think so, because it takes courage to lead from the front and do things differently. Innovation sounds great because that’s what you call it when it works but when it doesn’t its called failure, it takes a leader to stare down failure. Problem with leading from the front is that you are the first to take a bullet to the chest. So if he fails as an NFL quarterback or excels he is giving it a go in a different way and we are all lucky to be along for the ride.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Getting Started and Continuing the Journey

It still feels strange being introduced as “the runner” whenever I meet a new person. Sometimes that intro makes me feel like a phony Mr. Miyagi, as if I could connect some dots for your running life that you had not known but the truth is I don’t have any answers. I can tell you what I have learned in my experiment of one but that’s pretty much it. What I will try to do is transmit the positive effect fitness has had in my life and hope to inspire others to just give it a shot.
How do you start? Determine what your purpose is and if that purpose is sustainable.

Are you running to lose weight?
Are you running to be healthy?
Are you training to knock that Marathon off your bucket list?
Are you trying to complete an ultra-marathon?

Be sure the purpose is sustainable. When I began running I was pissed off at how much my health had declined. Anger is not a sustainable fuel for long term fitness. Anger got me out the door but after a few miles I learned that it’s impossible to stay angry forever. The only thing that I was achieving was running out of gas or injuring myself.

When I realized I could not go to the anger well every time I needed motivation I reassessed and my training reflects that. I completed a marathon and an ultra-marathon but my resolve weakened afterwards. I lagged as if I was one and done, but discovered that behind my anger there was a commitment to myself; to be a better healthier me. A better healthier me was not only a physical but also a mental goal. “Alex the runner” was fine but I wanted “Alex the guy who wants to make his world a better place and happens to run”. Took me a while to decipher but once I did my training picked up.  I run because I love it and enjoy sharing the positive results it has had on my attitude and health.

So if you want to run with the sole purpose of “being healthy” like I did beware.  It is the most common reason but it is also the easiest one to lose sight of.  What is your standard or measure? … be specific. When goals are not specific we lose track of them and start to waiver in our commitment. Remind yourself of those commitments by writing them down, getting a coach/trainer or joining a larger community with similar goals like DailyMile.com. Whatever your reasons and motivations end up being remember to ask the all-important…what happens when I achieve my goal?

When you achieve your goal be present in that achievement. Enjoy it and be 100% there. Don’t think of the next thing when you are doing this one…that’s like talking about food at a restaurant. Not all your training will go well nor will it all be pretty…I had the bloody nipples to prove it...just being present in your all achievements whether its race day or day 2 of the training plan.

But the answer to the “what happens next” question will be the one that either keeps you going or stops you in your tracks. That answer is individual as a fingerprint and no one will have the same one. So the next time you are tempted to ask the “runner” in your life, why do you run? Do not expect to get a clear or even intelligible answer. Instead honestly ask yourself why don’t I run? And if you give a real answer and not an excuse you’ll be closer to understanding their reasons for running.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Unbreakable Movie Review

I finally watched "Unbreakable". It is a documentary film about the 2010 Western States Endurance Run. Being an ultra-runner and my ultra running goal is to be a sub-24 finisher at the Western States my opinion is definitely biased. I am expected to say that the movie is the “Ben Hur” of running films or something of that nature. Since that is expected that is exactly what I am not going to do as I will instead focus on how the film affected me.

Running is selfish. It takes a lot of sacrifice and a lot of time that could be dedicated to other things. If you still want to include those other things then time management becomes the key to success. The main thing I noticed about the highlighted elite runners is that they all have committed to making running a big part of their lives and are comfortable with that decision. None of them hesitate regarding their commitment and their family and friends understand the dedication and respect it. I am certain their significant others are tempted to ask any of them to stay home and share a cup of coffee instead of leaving for a run. Yet they understand how important it is so they are supportive and in some cases even catch the running bug and attempt these monumental feats themselves.

It is mean say but someone has to… I am sort of glad I saw that elites suffer just like us normal folk, sorry Hal and Kilian. Often times I see the splits for these guys and gals in awe. Only thing to do is shutter at the thought of 9 min/miles for 100 miles, INSANITY !!! It’s just not human; it’s simply not what we are supposed to be able to do. The mental fortitude that these athletes display is just phenomenal. Their ability to push their bodies is just amazing. Marathoners talk about the wall, these guys literally are facing a mountain.

Their training is nothing short of amazing. They are outside in shorts in temperatures that most of us would need to look like the kid in “A Christmas Story” to stand. They are also very aware of how much time is needed to train for an event like the WS100 and with steely focus on the task get it done.

I think the movie is great even for a non-runner. It’s the story of a struggle to achieve goals thought impossible. It has its share of sadness but also excellence. The Director and film crew did a great job of gripping the viewer from start to finish and there is some wonderful footage of the WS100 trail. I think a non-runner can appreciate not only the mindboggling task of running 100 miles but also the amount of work it takes to crew and support these runners in their task…remember the cut off is 30 hours. Imagine seeing your loved one putting themselves through the ringer in the bitter night all for a buckle with a Mountain Lion on it? It’s tough to understand but the film does a great job of explaining the history of the event and why it attracts people from all over the world to Squaw Valley.

The distance, 100 miles, scares the crap out of me. Like an idiot I signed up for a race in February in which I am going to go as far as I can go. Honestly I doubt I will finish. I may survive the race but I certainly will not race it. The one thing I am missing is not the desire to complete a 100 miler, but the time management to do so. I am terrible regarding managing my time effectively. That is probably my 90% + of my running was done in the late evening last year. I simply cannot get myself out of the warm bed in the morning even though I live in southern California (it is not like I have the snow excuse that others places have, just a wimp albeit a toasty warm one).

I get outside and throw good runs together in my training. For many of my friends the amount of running I do now is absurd, ridiculous and borderline excessive (approx. 1,200 for 2011). The idea of needing to double and at times triple that amount just to be able to complete these events is startling. We all have the ability to get it done, but the execution is where I personally fail. This year my New Year’s resolution was to scale back the amount of complaining I do and listen to. It does not help anyone achieve anything and only plants the seeds of doubt and disbelief. I am hoping that next year brings more blessings because 2011 has been good to me. Maybe if I keep grinding the Western States 100 will just be one buckle among many in the closet.