Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Thank You Achilles Tendonitis

I cannot remember the last time my feet touched the floor in the morning without feeling pain.  Every morning the stretch of the Achilles tendon would serve to either keep in bed a few minutes longer or jolt me awake without the need for coffee.  My training in 2012-2013 became sporadic and inconsistent.  I convinced myself to head for the hills or take it “easy” on a trail when in reality I needed an easy track workout or a rest day.

I ran because it made me feel good and allowed me to return to the desk with vigor and enthusiasm.  My training because my coping mechanism for stress.  The more stress, the more I ran.  I even listened to lectures on the run, thus serving both masters…studying and working out.  But, the balance shifted when I choose new benefits to running without taking stock of all the ones already in my possession.

Mid-October I went on a run after a particularly difficult day and had to limp home the last 2 miles.  It was a sobering reminder that skipping steps in the healing process is always a bad idea.  The doctor let me know it was just more of the same; my achilles tendon was inflamed and the only solution is stopping and letting it heal.

Now, I am reaching the depths of the “athlete depression.”  I have difficulty accepting any decision made for me.  Having some input and say in what happens in my own life is a really big deal to me.  Thus, this injury forcing me to stop regardless of my will to go is a huge punch to the ego.  I have gained a few pounds and don’t feel the strength and vitality I usually have.  Also I am jealous (in a good way) of all of my friends logging miles without me.  But, rather than sinking into my own head and ego I will thank this injury.

Thank you achilles tendonitis for allowing me more time to study for finals.  Thank you for reminding me that feeling something even if it's painful is better than feeling nothing at all.  Thank you for helping me re-connect with my mindfulness.  Thank you for forcing me to accept conditions I cannot control and deal with them in a positive way.  Thank you for giving me a warning before something really serious happened.  Thank you for not happening during Headlands 50, that would have ruined my proposal so definitely a fist bump on that one. 

Thank you for reminding me the goals I seek are not limited to the trails but also include the kitchen.  I am now starting to manage my caloric intake, i.e. dieting.  Admittedly, my excitement for dieting is at an all time low and particularly so near the end of the year.  Also not looking forward to getting back on the road or into the gym when everyone else plans their “New Years Resolutions.”  But, thank you for reminding me that running is a part of my life, not my whole life.  Running gives me pleasure, but so do other things (like cookies).

Thanks for reminding me of my running goals and the work I need to put in to get there.  Thanks for not letting me skip steps and reminding me that a runner is just as much body as he is heart.  I promise I will do my best to come back, healthier, happier and even if we never meet again...thank you from the bottom of my sole.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Achilles Tendonitis and the forced slow down

There is a time in every runner's career when you have to decide whether running now is more important or running later.  For most of us the answer is simple because we want what we want when we want it so now, but when it comes to injury its not that easy.

Since moving to Los Angeles for law school I have increased my elevation gains/loss, but decreased overall mileage.  At first I could excuse the changes making myself believe that the quality was worth the decrease in quantity.  As the months rolled by I find it harder to get out of bed in the morning.

Every morning I awoke with the dread of knowing my Achilles tendon, ankle and calf were going to hurt when my toes touched the ground.  After a few months I got used to "warming up" just to get my day started.  The pain never went away completely no matter how many home remedies and runners tricks I tried.  So I went to the classic and most time tested solution...stop.

It has not been pleasant to stop running at all and even worse to force myself off the trails.  I have stuck to slow flat roads for about a month and taken more rest and cross training days.  I sometimes feel lethargic and angry...angry at the awesome pairs of shoes sitting in the closet taunting me to take em out for a spin.  But, my body is feeling stronger and I am now enjoying cross training more which is something that never would have happened.

I do not know how long the recovery and build up will take, but I am confident that I needed the break and my body did too.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Gear Review - The Running Shoe Rotation

I am taking a break from racing and focusing on building miles and this is the gear I will be using.  Here is post on the shoes in the rotation.

Altra Paradigm
The Paradigm has taken the place of my old Hoka Mafate as my road recovery shoe.  It feels light enough and comfortable enough but I do feel like I loose some energy to the ground because of its cushion.  That being said my splits are still fast whenever I wear it so its definitely a “feel” thing.  
The shoe has an odd pattern on the top which I don’t really understand but it seems to give the shoe structure but without adding more weight.  (obviously the guys at Altra know things).  The shoe allows me to shuffle if I need to and sprint when I want to.  I have had to re-do the laces and wear this shoe loose because its so cushioned whenever i tighten it it feels like a racing flat and I push way too hard and my form goes to trash…thus self regulation but thats a me thing rather than a shoe thing.

Altra Olympus
The olympus is my long trail run shoe, exploratory trail run shoe and whenever I am unsure my road shoe.  Altra Running hit it out of the park with this shoe because it can fill so many roles in a runners arsenal.  The shoe itself has a great tread pattern that feels secure on the trails, not the best for technical trails but it will not let you down.  It is also cushioned and zero drop so you can maintain form while checking out new areas or going long.  I think of it like the running back or running shoes…you can use them for their stated purpose but with some vision you can use them in a lot of different scenarios.

Newton Gravity (4 lug)
The first time I saw a pair of newtons I thought that a 3 year old holding crayons had been given cart blanche.  They colors are loud, but since they have grown on me.  I saw Craig Alexander wearing them during an ironman championship as he ran down elite athletes one after another.  I thought to myself…I want that.  He swan over 2 miles, rode over 100 and choose that shoe; so there must be a reason.  There is…speed.  These shoes promote a forefoot strike and proper form…if you don’t get it right the shoe will correct you.  The 4 lug version will roll out slightly if you are not careful so i generally use these shoes for longer tempo or fartlek runs where I want to have some protection against the pavement but still want to push the speed.  Definitely they stay parked when my calves are tight because going uphill they will make you run right and not cheat.

Skora Phase
Skora Core
Skora Form
I am really excited about this company and even asked if I could be an ambassador for them.  The shoes feel like putting on your first pair of nice dress shoes but you can throw down marathon in said shoes.  I first wore the phase for a night run because they are bright green and have plenty of reflective surfaces..so I figured it would be a good minimal shoe for night runs.  They would force me to run with good form and raise the probability of being seen by drivers.
The first thing I noticed was that my ankle felt supported and snug.  The lacing system (slide slant) allows the shoe to tighten but not restrict the mid and forefoot.  My toes can fully splay and the tread, though not “aggressive”, has plenty of grip on the roads and after 30 miles the shoes still look new.  Doing some research I found that many Skora runners were putting 1000 plus miles on a pair and loving every minute of it while reducing their propensity for injury.
My goal is to run an ultra marathon and marathon in SKORA and hopefully become an ambassador for the brand because I feel that their focus on quality and user feedback is second to none.  I am going to work up my miles in these shoes and hopefully make my body bulletproof come AR50 next year.

New Balance MT1010 (discontinued model) 
I am so glad I stocked up on this shoe when it went on sale and if I had known that it was no longer going to be made I would have probably purchased a few more pairs.  NB seems to be going to HOKA maximalist route an offering more cushioned shoes.  They are going for a broader market and I understand that but this is the shoe that Anton built and I Iove it.
The MT1010 have a “plastic-ish” exterior that despite its construction material breaths well and drains well.  I have never had a concern running in this shoe in the rain or in the heat.  For a fast trail run (13.1 or less…maybe up to a 50km) this is what I grab.  The tread pattern is aggressive so this shoe stays on the trails, but whenever I wear it the tread, which feels awkward on pavement, disappears and I can run as hard as I want while maintaining form since they have a 4mm drop and are very light.  Really hope NB brings back this pattern…if not this maybe the last NB shoe I buy.

Monday, September 15, 2014

2014 PCTR Headlands 50: The Best Finish

Sorry, but this is going to be a longerish post so fee free to skip.

     I met Christina through my cousin Frank.  Originally I was supposed to meet her at a NYE party, but that meeting never materialized and our lives took a few detours.  After a few months, an initial meet up was coordinated around April about a week after American River 50.  It was a casual pool/ BBQ event and Christina arrived fashionably late.  It had been a few months since I was supposed to meet her and I really did not think anything much would come of our meeting, but my cousin thought that we would really get along.  Upon arrival she shared her frustration about traffic and engaged mostly to let us know that her time was short because she had another commitment.  I said hi and thought to myself...this girl is odd.  
     After she settled in, she seemed way too happy and excited about everything.  How can anyone maintain such a high level of enthusiasm about everything?  She seemed to ooze energy and get really happy about the smallest details.  I thought that the "real Christina" had to be a totally different person once she came off that red bull high or whatever she had going on.   At the pool, I stayed relatively quiet- still feeling pretty lethargic from the race.  
     During that BBQ, being the idiot I am...I chatted with another gal.  Christina seemed more interested in catching up with her girlfriends and getting ready for the prior commitment.  The other gal and shared an affinity for film and chatted about her involvement with a film festival while everyone else was in the pool.  The party moved to the inside of the house and I ended up getting the other gal's number rather than Christina's.  As pen left paper out of the corner of my eye I saw Christina look in my direction.  She was sorting out her attire for a party.  I walked over as she did her make up and told her that she did not need any make up...all I got was a cold smirk.  My attempt at complimenting her was futile because she saw me get the other girl’s number.  Alex =  toast.
     A few weeks passed and I found myself thinking about this bubbly little Mexican girl.  There had to be something else; something unseen that the excited happy personality hid.  Determined to know what it was I went for a Hail Mary and asked my cousin if I could have her number.  After sorting out if it was ok to hand it over I was given her cell phone number.
     Our first date felt like a sitcom.  We agreed to meet up in North Hollywood at a coffee shop after she got out of work.  I arrived late because I could not find parking and found her sipping a cup of black coffee.  Gentleman fail right there.  She paid for her own drink on the first date.
     She has since told me that she straightened her hair and made an effort to plan out her outfit for after work.  In contrast I assumed she was coming after work so I just headed out "as is." I wore a hoodie, shorts, Rainbow Sandals and looked like something out of Michael Jackson's “Thriller.”  I had been up for 3 nights cramming for a final the day after our date and reeked of coffee tainted library musk.  Despite the shock she was amenable and we chatted for over 4 hours that night ...

     Fifteen months later her excitement has not waned nor has her enthusiasm for life faltered.  I found out that she really is that happy...all the time.  She smiles and tries to see the positive in everyone and everything and I love her for it…Especially since that characteristic is what got me subsequent dates.  We have cemented our relationship, grown in our religious faith and maintained an open and honest communication throughout.  Until now.  Mea Culpa..I lied and I am sorry.

     We chatted about marriage very early and very honestly.  We both did not want to be in a layover style relationship until the "one" came along.  Both of us were tired of dating for the sake of dating and really wanted to find that person to grow old with.  We both had long relationships in the past and were determined not to make the same mistake wasting time.  Within the first month of dating we both knew where we both stood.  But, come on you can't have her know when you are planning to propose right?  Thus, a few little well timed lies.
     About 4 months or so into dating we went out for a hike with a couple of friends in Griffith Park, the same friends that introduced us.  After the hike we strolled into Los Feliz for a Juicy Burger.  But, upon arrival Christina noticed a jewelry store she had been wanting to visit.  Steph and Christina went in as I stood outside with my cousin Frank hoping they did not find anything of interest because we were both just wanted to eat burgers.
     The two ladies came out giddy-ish.  They would not stop talking about how wonderful this jeweler was and how pretty a particular ring was.  Over lunch both of them spoke about engagement rings and it to be honest it got a bit uncomfortable.  The "you-need-to-see-that-ring-but-I-don't-want-to-tell-you" feeling was in the air.  So, we all went over the little shop to take a look.
     They had seen a natural sapphire in a rose gold halo setting and loved it.  The jeweler was a very smooth guy who knew how to sell and sell well.  He's a charmer and my heart sank.  Dam.  I used to work in the jewelry wholesaling business and now I am going to have to pay serious retail for this thing because this guy knows she loves it…oh her enthusiasm. 

     We left the store and Christina still glowing said that she did not want a diamond.  She would rather have something unique and made especially for her.  I reminded her that the expectation is a diamond and especially nowadays anything outside of the norm would be seen as odd and maybe even bring on some critique.  She did not care...she said...if its real and you give it to me it will be perfect and I will love it.  So immediately I emailed the jeweler.  
     A few months went buy and I finally felt ready to go forth with proposing.  I made sure to tell Christina that the jeweler had sold the stone and that we should plan another visit to see if we could find an alternate.  I love her and she knew the proposal was coming but when I would propose was the question.  If I dressed up and asked her to get ready for a night out, I think she would have smelt it a mile away.  If I created an emergency scenario I would have unnecessarily risked her rushing and maybe caused an accident.... so how to surprise her?
    I thought about different ideas and one kept coming back to mind.  What about the end of an Ultramarathon?  Its perfect.  It would not be strange to invite others to come out and crew, she will be exhausted and not have her womanly senses in tip top shape.  She would be caught off guard and she would see the prep as only one more race.  It would be my race, my training, my "thing"....total blind side.
     Which race?  There are so many to choose from and so many great destinations in trail running, but PCTR Headlands stood out from the crowd.  I have had mixed success and failure in the "Marin Mounds."  The place has such a special meaning; even named my dog "Vista" after Vista Point aid station because it is the best and worst aid station.  A beautiful single track down gives the most breathtaking views of San Francisco Bay, the city, and the Golden Gate; but the zig-zag on the way up feels eternal.  At the start of the decent you can look over the Golden Gate and beginning the ascent you look up from its base...a fortitude tester for sure.
     Also, it’s the same race during which I knew I never wanted another crew chief.  I was coming into Tennessee Valley Aid Station for the first time and she stood there shivering in the San Francisco morning holding two bottles of Tailwind for the quick swap.  I threw her into the lions den of crewing, sleep deprived, alone (her sister was there but slept most of the time *we did not know she was pregnant) and with only a GPS to guide her from station to station not knowing what condition she would see me in the next time I passed through.... So during that race the voice in my head only repeated, "that's my future wife."  
     The stage is set.  I let her best friend in on my plan.  So when Christina asked her to go to the race to help crew she was more than willing to go.  My parents asked for the days off saying it would be a great chance to visit my sister who lives in the Bay Area and Christina has no clue that I planned (God willing) to get on one knee and ask her to be my crew chief forever...

     August 2014.
     After the Spring Semester of law school my motivation for training was at an all time low.  Most of my energy was spent studying and attempting to recover from sleepless nights.  I needed to improve my 1L grades and despite my love of trails Law School is the #1 priority.  August 2, I took on Angeles Crest 100.  Needless to say I was under-prepared and DNF'd.  I made it to mile 56.  I rolled my knee out on Baden-Powell (mile 16ish) and my back was spasming by Chilao (56).  Rather than risk being immobile out on the AC I dropped out.  My pacer, Hieu, tried to get me going but whenever my heart rate shot up my lower back yelled out and that was the end of my day.  Were it not for Felix, Tetsuko, Christina and Roberto I would not have made it past the 26.2 mark because after that point it really was their will running the race and not my legs.
     I had some solace that Headlands was coming, but knowing my legs could not handle the 100 mile distance...I wrote to the RD requesting to drop down to the 50 mile instead of the 100.  It would be nice to get a buckle and a fiancee on the same day, but I could not let my foolish desire overrule the fact that my base building was weak and the conservative choice is the right one.
     So the stage and the ring are set...now the lies.  My informant, her best friend, sent me a text letting me know that Christina thought I was saving up for a ring.  I kept a stash in a coffee mug and she found it.  I tried to play it off but I don't think she was convinced.  So I went to plan B...deception.
     I planned to purchase a GoPro for the Headlands to document the trail and the proposal.  Originally I was going to buy it closer to the race, but her knowledge of my stash hurried my plans.  I bought the goPro...and then random things.  I was on a mission to have Christina think I was blowing the savings left and right.  So I ordered Gum, soap, socks, typewriter ribbon and whatever random nicknack I needed via Amazon Prime.  She started noticing boxes appearing at my door.  She started calling me Santa Claus and we even got into that uncomfortable..."you can't be buying toys all the time if we ever get married" chat.  Of course, I was good about not opening the boxes in front of her, but I made sure that she noted my stash was significantly dwindled.
     So, this is the point in the story where I say “kids don't procrastinate.”  But, the one time I decide not to procrastinate I am forced to scramble like a crazy person.  I get an email from the jeweler that the ring is all done and that the certification is back, but that it was a little off.  
     We chat and I am informed that (1) the stone is not a natural sapphire, but a heat treated one (2) the ct weight is smaller that was sold, (3) the price paid is substantially different than the appraisal price so if its ever lost I am up a creek.  We meet and he lets me know that he purchased the stone as a natural sapphire and explained why he thought it in fact was natural.  We looked at it under the microscope and I understand his conclusion.  (I am a nerd so I literally read everything I could about gems, sapphires and common methods of proper identification).  The independent certification person thought that it was heat treated with a unique process not generally taught to GIA certified jewelers.  It appeared that only a part of it was treated so it’s color was on 1/3 and when turned the whole stone appeared its peach color.  I asked about beryllium and according to the report it did not appear to be treated.
     Beryllium, yup, why is that a scary word in sapphire speak?  Because when it's treated prolonged exposure to the sun could fade or even eliminate the color after a few years!  After this conversation, I noticed a few other details and became very uncomfortable with the deal.  So, I asked if he would meet me at the appraisal price and he couldn't so I had to pull the plug.  He was accommodating and gave me a full refund because the process by which the stone was treated was completely unfamiliar to him and it in fact was not what we had agreed on.  It also helped that I had a detailed email chain that went on for weeks that clearly stated it was a natural untreated stone.  So two weeks out from the day the main piece of the puzzle vanishes.
     So why not just pay a premium and get the ring she liked?  The principle.  Yes, she loved the ring and that particular stone, but it was not natural.  Ever since day one, Christina has emphasized one word over all others, "real."  She did not want fake words or fake feelings and I knew she would not be happy knowing that the stone was treated and changed to be something it did not start out as.  
     As we grow older, all of us learn the time true fact that people don't change unless they elected to do so. If you want to make changes in your life, you make the choices that will cause change, but no one else will change you but you.  This stone was that person, that love that changed to fit a desired condition instead of being true.  I could not give her that.  The real ultra started...the hunt was on for an engagement ring and only 14 days to do it...
     I reached out to contacts to attempt to source the stone to no avail.  The type of gem, color, size, etc., were not easy to find.  Every jeweler I spoke too wanted to sell me on a diamond.  I even thought of just busting out a ring pop and explaining the circumstances, but luck came my way.  An old colleague from law school, Aaron, who makes custom engagement rings was able to source the colored gem and Amaury who I worked with a few years back was able to create a custom setting from scratch in 4 days….
     The race itself was rough.  My average milage per week over the last month was 14 and admittedly my body was woefully unprepared.  But, I had some extra motivation and the mental determination to get it done.  
     Mile 12 the cramps started and never left my side.  Fortunately I had a wonderful crew: Christina, Stephanie, Julie, Mom and Dad and the whole PCTR volunteer crew and directors.  I consumed only Tailwind Nutrition and my mood and energy levels stayed consistent and my stomach never turned which was a lifesaver.
     The last 4.3 miles were brutal.  At Tennessee Valley Aid Station I changed to a pack and put on my GoPro.  I asked Christina for my sunglasses so she would go to the car and I could confirm the ring was safely tucked in the pack.  I decided not to take a headlamp hoping beating the sun would be the extra push I needed.   But, after climbing the sun slept over the horizon and the darkness began to set in.
     Despite my legs being overworked I managed the “ultra shuffle” down towards Rodeo.  Luckily I arrived as a night race started so I was able to guide myself safely down using their headlamps as a guide.  
     At Rodeo I hear her voice…”Alex is that you?” ….”yeah its me.”
     At the finish line I take the camera from her hands and ask her to take a  finish line picture.  As she gets set to pose I get on one knee and ask her to make the happiest man alive… “will you marry me?” ….she said yes.

     I want to thank my family and friends for helping keep the secret for months and even for engaging in my deceptive tactics with me.  The race directors and volunteers at PCTR who helped me keep the secret and were encouraging me despite my body falling apart (and thank you for the champagne for us at the finish) and to all the other runners and crew who found out about my plans and were cheering and helping make this the happiest moment of my life.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Altra Olympus Shoe Review

Since my last review I stick to “specific purpose” type shoes.  The types of shoes worn for specific workouts or terrain.  I guess I am a victim of over specification, but that just means more shoes.  When training for Angeles Crest 100 I quickly realized that the trails were not as smooth as I expected and I would need a sturdier more built shoe.  

A few years ago I ran comfortably in the Hoka.  Hoka OneOne is the company known for brining the shoe revolution full circle.  Instead of joining the crowd of minimalist style companies they build foot pillows.  I used the Hoka Bondi B and the Hoka Mafate (version 1.0).  The Hoka was great for me at the time because it was forgiving and allowed me to stack up miles without the wear on my joints.

However, as my form improved I realized a few things.  

1. The lower the “drop” (Heel to Toe difference) the better my form  
2. Minimal and Maximal…no matter…its all about feel
3. Every shoe has its purpose

     I purchased Altra Instincts because they were zero drop which meant that the toe and the heel were the same height off the ground.  This allowed my foot to land mid foot without feeling out of place.  When it cant time to purchase a high mileage shoe for the trails I looked but kept coming back to the Altra brand.  Thus, I purchased the Olympus.

Shoe Specs
Stack Height: 36 mm
Weight: 11 oz
Upper: Mesh


  • The tread functional and not aggressive.  You can confidently take them on the road without noticeable change in performance.  Shoes built for the “trails” typically have such an aggressive tread that they are uncomfortable and foreign on flat surfaces, this shoe can easily go from road to trail to road without that odd sensation
  • Gaiter Tab: on the back of the shoe the gaiter tab is a clever addition taken from the Altra Lone Peak, its hidden enough that you may not have noticed it when you first picked up the shoe
  • Upper: the mesh upper drains well and is breathable.  Some of the previous Altra models ran a little hot, but this shoe stays cool even under the harshest conditions
Note the Gaiter Tab

  • Not the best on technical stuff.  The fact that the cushion is protecting you from rocks is great, but when you can’t feel subtleties its an issue.  
  • On a run in Angeles Crest I rolled my knee awkwardly because the shoes platform completely turned over a large rock.  Rather than flexing the whole shoe went in an odd direction since it does not flex at the middle as a minimalist shoe would have.
Altra Running has found the sweet spot between minimal and maximal.  They have “minimal” shoes in the sense that they are zero drop, wide toe boxed and motivate your feet to land mid foot.  However, the additional cushion shoes have the typical drawbacks of missing “feel” and feedback.  The protection caused me to take longer strides and focus less on turnover and cadence which sacrificed efficiency over longer stretches.

Would I recommend this shoe?  Absolutely.  If you need protection out not he trails but still want to keep the form you have so diligently worked on these are a great choice.  But, definitely keep another less stacked shoe option for speed days and those days you want to feel everything.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

2014 Angeles Crest 100 DNF

     Angeles Crest 100 DNF is a tough pill to swallow as an DNF is.  When I first heard of the race I knew it would test my resolve but I did not expect to learn so much from the experience.  I can give a myriad of reasons and excuses why I was unable to complete the race.  Ultimately, my body was not prepared and I could not will it to continue.

     The machine through which we experience life is not invincible but it is malleable.  My smithing skills were simply not up to the task and I have accepted that fate.  But, rather than jumping at another race I am going to retire from the 100 milers until my body can perform to the standards my mind sets for it.  I have always had better luck with the 50 mile distance and will be focusing on those events for the time being.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Currency Exchange

I have been rather quiet in the last few months about my racing and training because my actions did not match intent.  I want so badly to achieve certain fitness goals that falling short is deafening.  Not hitting the splits or missing too many training sessions because of other priorities made me frustrated and still does.  My soul sought silence and when found the lack of noise itself became so loud that I could not stand that either.

I am scared.  I am scared the plans laid down months in advance will not pan out.  What if my dog does not love to run as much as I do?  What will happen if I cannot muster the gumption to finish my training before most of the world takes their first sip of coffee?  What if this period of reflecting is simply acceptance that age is catching up to me and I will not be able to be this version of myself forever?  What if law school was not the right choice?  Should I have stayed in finance?

These questions are long gazes in the rear view mirror.  The reality is looking into the rearview we become ignorant of the blessings straight ahead.  

My mother is a notorious homebody who suffers from migraine headaches triggered by heat.  She has been sensitive to temperature change ever since I can remember.  In middle school, I remember checking up on her during one of those episodes.  I walked into the dark bedroom..she was awake.  I walked over to her and asked if there was anything I could do to help her.  She took my hand placing it gently against her head.  She whispered, "grab a hammer and hit me right there."  For a split second I panicked.  Does she really expect me to follow that request?  I want to be a good son but a hammer to the head probably does not fall into the "being a good son" category.  Seeing my puzzled face she smiled said she just needed to sleep a little while longer.

At least I figured out where I get my particular blend of sarcasm.  Even in the darkest of moments a smile can always shine through.  You can imagine my surprise when out of the blue she text me letting me know she had a few days off and wanted meet up.  Usually I visit her in beautiful San Clemente and make a day of it but this time was different.  I felt that she wanted to leave her bubble and explore mine to get a glimpse of where I spend my time.

The goal was to hike into the Monrovia Canyon Waterfall, grab lunch, and head back to the OC before traffic and heat got to her.  She struggled a little bit on the uphill section but that was due to her story telling.  She filled our ears with stories of hiking with her father and playing in creeks with her siblings.  The next morning I recieved a text, thanking me for creating a great day for her.  

I could have easily chosen to forego the offer.  A full tank of gas spent driving, the missed training run, etc. were good reasons for not accepting the offer but no matter what my ambitions are or will be the thing I can never recover is time with those I love.

My racing and training has struggled because circumstances both within and outside of my control.  Priorities necessitated modifying my time.  But, I do know the answers to my questions.  I cannot take Vista onto the trail too soon because I don't want her to suffer from Hip issues later, if I miss a run because I slept in its because my body maybe letting me know I need rest, age comes for us all and I am no exception so why dwell instead of enjoying and I elected to pursue law because it makes me happy.  

I cannot fight the answers to questions simply because I do not like them.  Training and racing will be there in whatever form they are meant to.  I in turn have made currency exchange trading in my pessimism for optimism.  Sometimes making the exchange requires a moment of clarity but for me it was a text message letting me know that there was something I could do for my mom.  Even in the darkest moments the smile did shine through.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Stress and Sneaky Feelings

There is a "sneaky" feeling we all get from time to time.  As children its means taking that extra piece of candy, staying up past bedtime or the first time you're allowed to sit at the grown ups table after dinner.  In those moments it feels as if you got a 1-up on life.  As adults those occasions are rare because sneaky & good generally involves breaking a law or hurting ourselves or others.

Last thursday I tweaked something in my back while bending over to leash my Vizsla for a walk.  I rolled onto the bed and lay in a cold sweat 30 minutes before even thinking about moving.  It was as if someone was pushing a bowling pin out straight through my lower back and I could not do anything to stop them.

Vista the Vizsla
It took an hour to get my phone and a few more to figure out my limitations.  I could move myself with arm strength but any effort to sit up or put any weight on legs meant pain.  It was awful.  I called school, the insurance company, my mom, friends, etc.  The fact was although it felt like the end of the world I in fact was not dying.  An ambulance ride to the ER would be not only expensive but most likely useless.  I spoke to Robert at Southwestern Law school; he was so kind and understanding.  He shared his experience and gave me solid practical advice for which I am very thankful.

In my mind...Alex you are an freaking ultra runner!!! you ran 50 miles a few weeks ago and now you can't tie your shoe?  what happened compadre?  I knew the answer.  Law school finals are here and stress is at its lowest price of the year and dividends are paying out exponentially.  I knew I needed to go in for an adjustment after AR50 (link); but instead I read, read and read some more.  I lagged on taking care of myself and something was bound to happen.  This weekend I missed a family wedding and hanging out with my sister who was visiting front the bay area.

As frustrating as missing events is the worst was being unable to complete small tasks or move.  Heck even sneezing or coughing felt like a round with Mike Tyson.  Lucille was helpful as well.  She crewed for me at my headlands finish and knows my affinity for being an idiot at times in addition to understanding my odd pain scale.  Rather than toughing it out she suggested seeing Dr. Quy to get his opinion and going from there.

After a few phone calls and texts in ALL-CAPS I was able to reach my Chiropractor.  My girlfriend came over after work and upon arrival noticed the glaringly obvious.  There is no way on God's green earth that she could move me to the car.  Thus, I did what any man would do...go for it.

Two seconds later...I was kneeling and hugging a chair with a bear like hug not unlike the collegiate morning after hug of the john.  This "going for it" plan was useless.  I moved a few inches at a time then stopped to catch my breath and push down any yelp that sought to escape.  Christina made the executive decision to drag me.  If someone told me weeks or even years ago, the girl of your dreams will physical drag me a few dozen yards and I will love her more for it I would have laughed in their face.  But, it happened.

Last Semester, Christina reading as I studied in the Library
When I first saw Dr. Quy a few years ago he checked my shoes and immediately told me the reason why I was visiting him.  He is professional and understands athletes and I have the highest regard for his opinion.  Rather than treating my spine like an accordion he sought to release tension and that meant more time hooked up to electrodes than actual cracking.  I was wheeled inside on an office chair and eleven hours after my back seized I was able to finally take my first steps and walk.

As this weekend wore on I felt the childish sneaky feeling.  I got 1-up on life.  Christina did so much for me and throughout remained wonderful and more beautiful than ever.  She kept her cool in the car when my body went weird.  My heart rate shot up and sweat poured down my face as my limbs shook and teeth chattered from the pain and she remained.  She remained and held my hand.

She smiled even though my face grimaced telling me it was going to be ok while stretching my legs out to release some of the pressure, etc., etc.  After a mini lecture about needing to stretch more and being more careful about my health she smiled and still held my hand.

At mass she looked at me and said "I love the whole you, including everything; even if you are an old man."  The Sunday gospel reading was the famous doubting Thomas reading.  It was the reassurance I did not need.

I don't need to ask because I see, I don't need proof because I feel it.  This...we, are a good thing.

My childish grin has not waned since.  Yes, I am sneaky.  I stole this girl's heart and not giving it back.

Monday, April 7, 2014

2014 American River 50 Race Report

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…

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

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?

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

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

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. 

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

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

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

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

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

- 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)

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.