2018 4mph Challenge

March 26, 2018

A little over a year ago I had an amazing race at Coastal Trail Run‘s New Year’s One Day 24 hour race (no blog post for that one—sorry), ending up as first male with 105.4 miles (a woman from Japan went 106.5 miles), and so I was looking for another fixed time event. The Davis Two Day that a friend won last year was not held this year, so I went looking for something else. I found the 4mph Challenge, up in Whiskeytown, which is a little west of Redding, CA.

The format of this race is intriguing. I have heard of at least one other 4mph race, but in this case the route is a six mile out and a six mile back, with 90 minutes to finish each six mile leg. That’s four miles per hour. If you arrive early, you have to wait for the 90 minutes to expire before you can start the next leg. And if you arrive late your race is over. Note that I did clarify that while you can’t start a leg early, you can start late if you have something that needs attending to (like using the bathroom), but the 90 minute clock starts when it starts. There was one other clarification I should have asked about, but I didn’t realize it at the time.

In preparing I did a couple of simulations, one of 24 miles (six hours) and one of 12 miles (three hours). The biggest things I learned were 1) that 4mph is pretty slow, at least at first, and 2) to have a way to stay warm while you’re waiting for the next leg to start (a jacket for my upper body and a blanket for my lower body). I also worked on my nutrition plan, including when to take Vespa (30 minutes after every other stop, so at 3:30 elapsed and every three hours thereafter, to keep it separate from aid station eating).

The start was at 8 AM on March 17th, and it was quite cold. The forecast only called for a little bit of rain, but given the temperature I wore my rain pants, because they were the only long pants I brought for the race. I also wore arm warmers, gloves, and an ear band. The pants lasted until 12 miles (longer than I really needed them), while I think the gloves and ear band lasted until 24 miles. I kept the arm warmers with me for the whole race, in my pack if not on my arms.

The course was pretty much as advertised, with less than 400 feet of climbing per leg, and mostly but not entirely on trail. I feared that there might be a ton of mud since it had rained quite a bit the prior days, but other than a few puddles that required some care to go around, things were good. The course was also very pretty in spots. The “manzanita tunnel” was especially noteworthy, as were the frequent views of Whiskeytown Lake.

For maybe the first 30 miles everything went pretty much as expected. I pressed the lap button on my Garmin as each leg started, so that the lap speed could tell me how I was doing on pace. Since I had decided that I wanted between five and 15 minutes of rest time after each leg, that meant a pace between 12:30/mile and 14:10/mile. During these relatively early miles I was more likely to notice myself going too fast than too slow.

But eventually I started to realize that this race has a really unforgiving format. As the miles added up I was running more and walking less, and still taking a little longer to finish each leg. I have heard about “cardiac drift” for a long time, but since in most races I tend to slow down rather than let my heart rate go higher, I hadn’t really experienced it firsthand. But in this race slowing down was not an option. In most ultramarathons you expect problems and/or low spots to come up, but since the races are so long you have time to fix them. In this race there is little margin for error, at least for someone with my relative lack of speed.

At 42 miles (6:30 PM), Connie brought me my good flashlight, since the sun was going to come down before I got to 48 miles. At the 48 mile stop (8 PM) I should have gotten my gloves and ear band, but the sun had just come down, so it wasn’t cold yet.

My lowest goal was 54 miles, since I had considered running the Marin Ultra Challenge 50 instead of this race, and I figured it would be a shame if I got fewer miles here. The leg from 48 to 54 miles was “interesting” because partway through it became clear that I would need to use the bathroom when I arrived. That slowed me down, and I walked slightly more than I would have otherwise, but I did make it in time. And even better, I got in and out of the bathroom and got what I needed shortly before the next 90 minute period started at 9:30 PM.

I continued to slow down on the next leg, from 54 to 60 miles. This direction was typically slightly faster for me, but despite that my speed was close to my minimum target of 14:10/mile. The minor pain in my right knee that had been around most of the day was bugging me, and my motivation was dropping. I talked to another runner, and when I mentioned I would be running the Lake Sonoma 50 four weeks after this race, he said that he would probably have only signed up for 36 miles if he had that on his schedule. Excellent! Rationalization for stopping at 60 miles!

I got there with less than three minutes to spare, just before 11 PM. Connie was there, since I had been planning to swap GPS watches and take my daily pills. I tried to drop, saying that I didn’t expect to make it to mile 66 in time, but Connie and (I think) the Race Director talked me out of it. So I quickly swapped my GPS, grabbed some quesadilla, and left. I was about 45 seconds late leaving, intentionally skipping the daily pills, but not even thinking about the gloves or ear band until I was too far out of the aid station to consider going back for them.

The leg to mile 66 was in fact very cold. I had already given up on making it in time, and so I was moving fairly slowly, which didn’t help with warmth. On the short road section in the middle of the leg someone in a pickup truck wondered what was up, since it was almost midnight (I told him I was in a race, which he was probably skeptical of). At some point I set a goal of getting past a plank that was about 0.8 miles before the aid station before the other runners who would be coming the other way, so I didn’t have to wait for them. I achieved that easily, but eventually I did see the other runners. There were only six of them, so my first thought was that I would be more than okay with seventh place overall. (I later learned that two runners made it to 66 miles in time but did not continue, which means ninth was my best case scenario.)

When I arrived, I jogged around the parking lot since that was required to finish the six mile course, but I was about 11 1/2 minutes late (about 12:41 AM Sunday). The aid station workers and Connie got me warm by a small fire and with some broth and quesadilla, and we headed back to our rental after a stop at the other aid station to get my stuff. I had actually left my pack and flashlight on the chair at mile 66, so I had to come back in the morning for them.

The following day, a Monday, the results were posted, and I was surprised to see that I had only been credited with 60 miles, and was listed last of those who had 60 miles (I assumed because I was probably the last of those to arrive). I had thought that if you get to an aid station on time, head out for another leg, and then do not make it in time, you would still get credit for that final leg. But in clarifying e-mail with the Race Director I discovered that was not correct. This made me disappointed, since 17th place is a far cry from the seventh place I originally had in my mind, and also a little angry, since I wouldn’t have left the mile 60 aid station (and gotten so cold) if I had known.

Over time I’ve gotten more okay with it. I found out the order of the nine people credited with 60 miles was purely alphabetical, so that means I was in a nine-way tie for ninth place. Furthermore, all of the top eight people were younger than me. But will I run this unforgiving race again? At the moment I’m more inclined to find a more traditional fixed-time event, like the Davis Two Day I was originally looking for. But we’ll see…

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Oscar® Predictions for 2017

March 3, 2018

Here are my predictions for the Oscar winners for films made in 2017:

  • Picture: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
  • Director: Gillermo del Toro for The Shape of Water
  • Actor: Gary Oldman for Darkest Hour
  • Actress: Frances McDormand for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
  • Supporting actor: Sam Rockwell for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
  • Supporting actress: Allison Janney for I, Tonya
  • Original screenplay: Get Out 
  • Adapted screenplay: Call Me By Your Name
  • Cinematography: Blade Runner 2049 (is the 14th time the charm for Roger Deakins?)
  • Editing: Dunkirk
  • Animated feature: Coco
  • Documentary feature: Faces Places
  • Foreign language feature: A Fantastic Woman (Chile)
  • Production design: The Shape of Water
  • Costumes: Phantom Thread
  • Makeup: Darkest Hour
  • Score: The Shape of Water
  • Song: “Remember Me” from Coco
  • Sound editing: Dunkirk
  • Sound mixing: Dunkirk
  • Visual effects: War for the Planet of the Apes
  • Animated short: Dear Basketball
  • Documentary short: Heaven is a Traffic Jam on the 405
  • Live action short: DeKalb Elementary

My primary source was GoldDerby, though I also looked at PredictWise. The ones that seem to have the least consensus are picture, original screenplay, documentary feature, song, visual effects, and documentary short.

Oscar® Predictions for 2016

February 25, 2017

Here are my predictions for the Oscar winners for films made in 2016:

  • Picture: La La Land
  • Director: Damien Chazelle for La La Land
  • Actor: Denzel Washington for Fences
  • Actress: Emma Stone for La La Land
  • Supporting actor: Mahershala Ali for Moonlight
  • Supporting actress: Viola Davis for Fences
  • Original screenplay: Manchester by the Sea
  • Adapted screenplay: Moonlight
  • Cinematography: La La Land
  • Editing: La La Land
  • Animated feature: Zootopia
  • Documentary feature: O.J.: Made in America
  • Foreign language feature: The Salesman (Iran)
  • Production design: La La Land
  • Costumes: La La Land
  • Makeup: Star Trek Beyond
  • Score: La La Land
  • Song: “City of Stars” from La La Land
  • Sound editing: Hacksaw Ridge
  • Sound mixing: La La Land
  • Visual effects: The Jungle Book
  • Animated short: Piper
  • Documentary short: The White Helmets
  • Live action short: Ennemis Interieurs

My primary source was GoldDerby, though I also looked at PredictWise. The ones that seem to have the least consensus are actor, costumes, and documentary short (the last being a dead heat between The White Helmets and Joe’s Violin).

2016 Tahoe Rim Trail 100

November 2, 2016

Background

The Tahoe Rim Trail 100 is run entirely on trails on the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe, and consists of two 50-mile loops. They actually aren’t really loop-shaped, since there are several segments that you cover in both directions, and even one aid station (Tunnel Creek) that you see three times per loop. The elevation ranges from about 6800’ to just under 9000’.

I tried to run this race in 2012, which was a year of several 100 mile DNFs (Did Not Finish) for me. That year the cutoffs were tighter, and I was the last one who made it through the mile 80 aid station. But I had given what I could to even do that, and thoroughly missed the cutoff at mile 85. My primary motivation this time was to avenge that DNF.

This year there were roughly 236 people registered, of whom 6 did not start.

Preparation

On the whole I was well prepared for this race. I had gotten good mileage in, with a heavy emphasis on vertical. I had prepared for the altitude using a device called AltoLab, plus four weeks before this race I ran the Broken Arrow Skyrace, and about 1.5 weeks before this race I was in Idaho and Wyoming for a few days at altitudes between 6000’ and just under 10,000’. I ran a 10K there on July 4th, finishing over 2 minutes faster than I had at the same race last year.

On the negative side, my core training started late, on June 28th, which (spoiler alert!) turns out to have been a mistake. I took a risk by not doing any heat training, both because it was logistically difficult and because I really hate it, but that didn’t end up being a significant problem.

Weather

The weather worked out well for me. The high temperatures were probably no more than 80°F, and there were almost always good breezes. Actually at times the winds were quite strong on the ridges, which made it hard for some people to stay warm (or keep their hats on), but I tend to thrive at relatively cold temperatures, never putting on my windbreaker after the first few miles of the race. The dry conditions caused a lot of dust, especially in the early miles where the trails were more crowded. But on the whole it’s pretty hard to complain about the weather.

First 50 Miles

The first 50 mile loop went pretty close to my plan, which had me finishing in 32:21 total vs. a 35-hour time limit. The very first seven mile segment to the Hobart aid station was substantially faster than my plan (by about 12 minutes), and then after that I was generally between 12 to 20 minutes ahead of plan at each point along the way to 50 miles. I stayed well focused, pushing neither too hard nor letting up completely. I kept seeing people who are usually well ahead of me, some of whom said they were trying to get used to the altitude—in contrast it hardly seemed noticeable to me.

The one place I saw Connie (my wife and crew) during the loop was at Diamond Peak, which was the 30 mile point. It was warm enough then for me to break out the ice bandana, which helped since the climb out of there is the toughest of the loop, and it was probably also the hottest I saw it all day. On my way back to the halfway point of the race I had a few ounces of beer at the Hobart aid station (mile 40), and the Deschutes Fresh Squeezed IPA that they had (on tap!) hit the spot.

At the halfway aid station (mile 50), both Connie and my pacer were there and ready for me. I got my good headlamp and handheld flashlight (it was roughly 6:30pm so it seemed a bit early for that, but we wouldn’t see Connie for another 30 miles), switched to GPS #2, took my daily pills, and got some calories in. This took longer than planned, partly because the aid station limited me to one person (Connie or my pacer) inside the aid station at a time. And also because I wanted to make sure I had everything I needed for the night.

A word about my pacer: Brian Robinson was serious overkill for this task. He ran this race and finished fourth in its inaugural running 10 years prior. He has finished the Barkley Marathons (which only 14 distinct people have ever done). Brian was also coincidentally in my high school graduating class, and while we barely knew each other then, we have had more contact since I started running ultramarathons. When I put out the word on Facebook that I was looking for a pacer, Brian agreed.

Second Half

The second half of a 100-miler is always more interesting than the first half…

The next 21.5 miles

Things kept going well, and improved to some extent thanks to Brian. One lesson that I’ll remember is that running, even for a little while, also helps speed up your walking pace. Otherwise you tend to get into a “slog” mentality.

We got to Hobart well ahead of plan, since as on the first loop this segment was easier than I expected. I had another few ounces of beer (motivation!), and we continued to Tunnel Creek. I should mention that my pacer from HURT, Noé Castañón, worked at the Tunnel Creek aid station for the entire time it was open, and this was the fourth of six times I would see him there.

Next was the Red House loop. At the aid station in the middle of the loop, which actually seemed relatively warm (for the mountains in the middle of the night anyway), a friend named Gary said he was having trouble staying warm. Since Gary is usually hours ahead of me (he finished this race in under 26 hours the prior year), this sounded surprisingly ominous.

We made it back to Tunnel Creek (mile 68.5), talking at least part of the time about Brian’s experiences at Barkley, and getting there about an hour ahead of my plan. Cool! The only possible downside was that unless Connie was tracking me in the middle of the night, she might not make it to our planned meeting at mile 80, but I wasn’t very well going to slow down for that reason.

The next section, to Bull Wheel (mile 71.5), was uneventful, or at least I don’t remember anything interesting from it. I think we passed some people, especially on the uphills where we were walking faster than others (those running the uphills were long gone).

Descent to Diamond Peak

This is the longest section (8.5 miles) between aid stations on the course. We were moving well, at least early in the section. And Brian was showing that 1) he knew better than I did how the course arced around, and 2) he intuitively knew how the position of the moon told us where we were in that arc.

But as the section wore on, Brian pointed out that I was leaning to my right. Oh, no! My hardest 100 miler was hard specifically because of this problem (leaning that leads to increasing back pain, making running and even walking increasingly difficult). Since then I have always done core work when preparing for 100 mile races, but I had started that late for this race. He made a series of suggestions for reducing the effect, some of which helped, but I did slow down. It seemed like the aid station would never arrive, but eventually, of course, it did.

We got there (mile 80) just before 4 AM, which was about 90 minutes ahead of my plan and well over three hours faster than I had gotten there in 2012. But despite that Connie was there!

There were also medical people there, so I spent a fair amount of time talking to them and actually lying down on a cot for a little while (I think this was the first time I have ever done that during a race). Thankfully the medical people didn’t seem at all inclined to pull me from the race, and frankly their suggestions were less useful than the ones I had already gotten from Brian.

A friend and sometimes coach, Franz, was on another cot, and he was sleeping. He is usually far ahead of me, but had been having a tough race (he might have been sick). His wife was there, though, so he was in good hands.

I switched to GPS #3 and put on sunscreen for day two. And while I did jettison a few things for weight at Brian’s suggestion, I did decide to take my hiking poles, both for the steep climb out and to help stabilize my leaning. In all I was at Diamond Peak for over 30 minutes, which is eternity, especially since my plan had called for only seven minutes.

Diamond Peak to Tunnel Creek

The climb out of Diamond Peak is where I fell behind the cutoffs in 2012, but this time I was way ahead of where I was then. Plus that also meant it was still dark and cool, which helped a great deal. This brutally steep climb straight up a ski slope was not part of the inaugural course that Brian ran in 2006, so I was curious what he would think of it in comparison to the notorious climbs in the Barkley (verdict: in the same ballpark of steepness).

Fairly early in the climb, though, I had a new issue to deal with, namely a strong need for a bathroom (I’ll try to be fairly delicate and avoid the details). Walking slowly uphill didn’t involve much jostling (which meant it wasn’t too bad), and I hoped there was a portable toilet at Bull Wheel.

But there wasn’t. And the three miles from there to the last of six Tunnel Creek aid station stops had a fair amount of downhill. As a result the jostling made things worse, overshadowing the leaning problem, and I had to walk more than I otherwise would have. Needless to say when we got to Tunnel Creek I went directly to one of the portable toilets there. What a sight for sore eyes!

By this point, at mile 85, I had definitely lost some of the cushion on my plan, but we were still about 50 minutes ahead of it when we left Tunnel Creek just before 7 AM.

Tunnel Creek to Snow Valley Peak

Okay, the bathroom problem was handled, but during the five-mile stretch to my last stop at the Hobart aid station a new issue was added. Specifically, I started wheezing when I was breathing harder. At the time we thought maybe the altitude had finally caught up with me, but in retrospect I wonder if the dusty conditions might have been a factor. By this point the leaning made my back hurt when I tried to jog downhill, and combined with the impaired breathing uphill meant it was almost all walking, and not all that fast either.

After my last beer at Hobart, we continued on the three mostly uphill miles to the last full aid station of the race at Snow Valley Peak (mile 93). I was slow enough that passing even casual hikers who were on the trail wasn’t easy or always even possible.

But the aid station had sherbert! The flavor I first asked for had just run out, but my backup flavor still hit the spot since it was now a little after 10 AM and it was getting warm. One amazing thing is that a much faster friend named Mark arrived there after I did, and was still there when we left. And amazingly we were still about 50 minutes ahead of my (obviously fairly conservative) plan at that point.

The rest

The last seven miles were mostly downhill, but the leaning with its associated back pain, and to a lesser degree the heat, were really kicking in and substantially slowing me down. A number of people passed me, including that much faster friend Mark. I was in total slog mode now, though still totally committed to finishing. Somewhere in there I figured out that walking faster only hurt a little more than walking slowly, and getting this done sooner was worth it.

There was one limited aid station in this section, which was good since the heat had increased my fluid consumption significantly. One of the people at that aid station said that she has seen the leaning problem at Badwater, and she believed the issue was electrolytes. I took some, and for a few minutes the placebo effect had me actually thinking she was right, but in the end, at least for me, that made little if any difference.

Cutting to the chase, I did finally get to the finish. I usually save a bit so that I can run the last short stretch to the finish line, even if I have been walking it in, but this time that just seemed wrong for some reason so I walked across the line. My official time was 32:08:37. I had lost about 37 minutes on my plan just in the last seven miles, but that still means I was 13 minutes under. And I was done! DNF avenged!

I went immediately to the medical tent, where they checked me out and asked a bunch of questions. I don’t remember the details, but I do remember feeling coherent and calm because while this had been painful, I had been sure I was going to finish. Later Connie got me an appointment with the Monsters of Massage, who had a tent with two massage tables near the finish line. They temporarily added to the pain since they specialize in “extreme deep tissue sports massage,” but that was well worth it since I left them closer to vertical than I had arrived.

Thoughts and Lessons

On the whole I was well prepared for this race. I was lucky on weather and getting such a great pacer. The main thing to do better is more core work to avoid the leaning problem, with a secondary lesson of remembering to use the bathroom when it’s available.

I feel really proud about how I did compared to some normally much faster people I knew in this race. Gary, who was cold around mile 65, DNFed at mile 80. Franz, who was asleep at mile 80, finished just after me. And Mark, who was just behind me at mile 93, only passed me in the last few miles. And one other runner I know who is normally somewhat faster DNFed pretty early due to altitude problems. In all I think about 75 people who started did not finish, and this time I was not among them.

My other 100-mile DNFs that still need avenging are the HURT 100 and Western States. Both have lotteries and unfortunately I already know I won’t be running HURT in January, but when I do get the chance to run them again I will make the most of it. As I approach 60 years old, the clock is ticking.

A Low-carb Experiment

September 4, 2016

I’ve been considering trying a low-carbohydrate diet for a while now, mostly from hearing about ultrarunners being very successful with it, on podcasts like Endurance Planet. From a long-distance running perspective, the main goal is to train my body to be better at burning fat, since in long races it has to do that in the later miles, so it might as well be better at it. I also thought there might be a chance of reducing my midsection fat, since from a health perspective that is the worst place to carry fat, and lose a few pounds in general. Some people also lower their blood pressure, and getting off that prescription would be cool.

Someone who often appears on Endurance Planet is Dr. Phil Maffetone, and he has talked about his two-week test several times. It’s pretty extreme, with almost zero carbs, but for two weeks I thought I could do it, despite the total prohibition on beer (and diet soda, which is my normal source of caffeine). I picked a time with no races on the immediate horizon, and started the test on August 22nd. That makes today the final day.

So how has it gone? I would say pretty well. The cravings have been pretty minor, and the inconveniences (primary not being able to just buy lunch at the work cafeteria or pick up a meal when out and about) have not been as bad as I feared. Since I hate coffee and don’t like tea much better, I took a caffeine pill on the first day and then waited for the withdrawal headaches to come, but they never did, so I am now on day 13 of being caffeine-free. I went on a couple of long (3-4 hour) trail runs with zero calories, which felt very risky, but I was fine and only a little slower than usual. I lost a couple of pounds, which is less to carry up the hills.

Am I going to continue this? Yes, at least for a while and possibly forever. I will absolutely reintroduce beer to my diet, though probably at a lower level than before, and a few other things in small quantities. I should probably find a book or two to figure out some of the possible pitfalls of low-carb living, so I can avoid them.

Some things that were constants in my diet for decades that I’m surprised to not be missing much at all include Diet Coke, breakfast cereal, and rice. I can imagine never having them again (except maybe rice as part of sushi, every once in a while). Things that I have given up for the two-week test that I cannot imagine giving up forever include the aforementioned beer, and also chocolate (maybe even darker than my previous 71%), ice cream (only a few times a year, but some), popcorn (when we host a movie night, meaning rarely), and the ability to eat out sometimes.

Of course I haven’t tried running any ultramarathons yet, though I have a trail 50K on the schedule in just under three weeks. I will probably take in a few carbs during such races, and figure out what works in this new world order.

The experiment continues.

2016 HURT 100

April 2, 2016

This post is about my 2016 attempt at the HURT 100. I’ve started it four times, and this year I got further than ever before, but I still haven’t finished it. And I think I know why.

This is long. My apologies, but it is a 100-mile race.

About the HURT 100

This trail race through the mountains above Honolulu is unlike any other race I have done. You have to hike, not run, a lot of the trail, thanks to the rocks, roots, and mud, plus a hefty amount (over 24,000′ total) of climbing. Given the difficulty of the terrain, the 36-hour total time limit is actually short, and finishing rates are consistently under 50%. The name is certainly appropriate, though it is actually an acronym for Hawaii Ultra Running Team, the organization that puts on the race.

The course consists of five identical 20-mile loops, each made up of three legs. The first leg starts at the Nature Center, runs up to Pauoa Flats, and down to the Paradise Park aid station (roughly mile 7). The second leg runs back up to Pauoa Flats and down to the Nu’uanu aid station (mile 13). The third leg runs back up to Pauoa Flats and down to the Nature Center aid station (mile 20). Pauoa Flats is the high point of each of the three legs, and actually is pretty flat, but is also covered with ankle-threatening banyan roots and at least some mud.

Besides the final 36-hour cutoff, there are also cutoffs at 29 hours (80 miles), 31:30 (87 miles), and 33:30 (93 miles).

If you don’t finish, they also define a “fun run” of about 67 miles, meaning three full loops plus the first leg of the fourth loop, ending at the Paradise Park aid station. They used to call this the 100K.

Making things a bit easier, and much more pleasant, is that the volunteers are great, with a genuine feeling of family (“ohana”). The race is always held on Martin Luther King weekend in January, with a wonderful banquet and awards ceremony the Monday evening after the race ends (more 100-mile races should have parties!).

My History With HURT

I first ran the HURT 100 in 2011, and ran it again in 2012 and 2013, not finishing it any of those times. In 2014 and 2015 I was injured or recovering and did not start the race, though I volunteered. Add in the fact that the oldest finishers are generally only a few years older than I am now, and the urgency was clear.

For the record, these are my results:

  • 2011: 67 miles in just over 29 hours
  • 2012: 67 miles in 28:16
  • 2013: 67 miles in 29:40, and then continued on to 73 miles in 32:43 total

Preparing for this Year

For pretty much all of 2015, this race was the focus of my training. Despite distractions and the holidays, I got down to my target weight, which was about 20 pounds less than I was for at least one other 100 miler. My 2015 race results reflected both that and my more rigorous training, with Personal Records (PRs) at 50 miles (twice!), 100K, and even a paved half marathon. In early November I ran my first complete 100 miler in three years, mostly to re-wrap my head around the 100-mile distance, but I also came within a couple of minutes of my 100-mile PR. So I was better prepared this year than ever before, but also older.

Here are a few other things I did to prepare:

  • I experimented with electrolytes. After listening to Dr. Timothy Noakes, I tried using few or no electrolyte capsules in some races up to 50 miles. For HURT I eventually decided to stick to a more traditional plan, in deference to Hawaii’s much higher heat and humidity.
  • I tried a weight vest. It was adjustable up to 20 pounds, and I did a few hikes wearing it. I got it too late to do as much as I would have liked, but given how steep HURT is, and how much of it I would be hiking, it was a good addition.
  • I did core work. As usual before 100-mile races, I worked on my core muscles, trying to avoid the issues I had in the Grand Teton 100. Core work is way less fun to me than trail running.
  • I did heat training. This is basically spending time in a sauna during the last few weeks before a warm race. I hate heat training even more than core work, but I know it helps.
  • I previewed the course. As usual, we got to Honolulu a full week in advance, and I spent some time on the course the prior weekend. It was muddier than I had ever seen it before, and it turns out that the muddiest part (on the Judd Trail, near the Nu’uanu aid station) was one of the few sections I did not get to preview.
  • I recruited a dedicated pacer. I had never had one before at HURT. Noé is great, and very experienced.

This was going to be my best chance yet at finishing the race, but the nervousness built as the race approached. My plan was based mostly on the splits of a runner from the prior year, and it called for me to get to the 100K point well over five hours faster than I ever had before. Put another way, that’s almost five minutes per mile faster. Yikes!

The Race

Race morning I got up with my alarm at 3:40 am and got ready (sunscreen, lubricant, some calories, etc.). Connie drove me to the start around 5 am, where the was a minor hiccup: a van backed into the front of our rental car as I finished getting my stuff out. The volunteer who was directing parking told me to go run my race, which was good advice. The race started on time at 6 am.

Loop 1 (miles 1-20)

This loop was close to perfect. I was only a minute off my plan at the first aid station, lost a bit of time on the second leg due to the mud pits on the Nu’uanu side, but was back to a minute off by the end of the loop. I did feel like I was having to push a bit harder than I hoped, as gauged by a higher than planned heart rate, but I was still feeling good. I was also ahead of some runners I know are normally better than me, which meant that I was having a good day, they were having bad days, or I was pushing too hard.

Loop 2 (miles 21-40)

The second loop was similar in that I stuck very close to the plan. I did roll my right ankle at one point, and it hurt badly for a few minutes, but worked itself out quickly. Other pains, like a few toes and the bottom of one foot, were also transitory. This isn’t to say that I was pain free through 40 miles, but everything was within a tolerable limit.

Loop 3 (miles 41-60)

At this point, 40 miles into the race, I got my pacer, Noé. Pacers always give me a mental boost, both in spirits and in that they are more alert due to being better rested. He led at first, looking back periodically to wait for me to catch up. The first climb up what the locals call Hogsback seemed slower than I hoped, since sometimes the energy of a pacer can boost your own energy. I ran when I could, mostly, but things were definitely slowing down. I had expected that, but feared this was a bigger dropoff than planned.

Here’s an important point, though I totally missed it at the time: I stopped tracking where we were relative to the plan. Before I got my pacer I checked the plan at least once per leg and was totally on task. Now I had unconsciously ceded responsibility to Noé, only neither of us realized that. And not being consciously on task is likely a big part of why I didn’t finish. I also stopped using Vespa as regularly as I had been (on a three-hour schedule), and I took longer than usual in the aid stations. As I recall Noé did mention that we were getting a bit behind, but I either blew that off or got discouraged, so I was not nearly as present as I had been previously. He and others we saw on the trail or in aid stations remained sure that we could finish, but over time my doubt grew. I didn’t think I could speed up, and I would need to at least a little bit, to make the cutoffs.

As an aside, ceding control and not being present is a pattern in multiple areas of my life and does not serve me well. It won’t be easy to change after being alive for 55 years, but any progress would be good in many ways beyond ultramarathons.

At about mile 53, the climb out of Nu’uanu is interesting in this regard. Noé experimented with having me lead, and he thought I was a bit faster that way, which is consistent with the ownership theory. But as it turns out, I actually fell behind my plan by an additional 16 minutes on that leg, so it’s hard to say if this really helped or hurt.

So by the time we finished loop 3 (mile 60), I was 40 minutes behind schedule and my hopes of finishing were evaporating since that meant I had to start gaining on my plan, to the tune of 31 minutes in 40 miles, or about 45 seconds per mile, which is a lot.

Loop 4 (miles 61-80)

A woman who started that loop about when I did said something about needing two 7.5 hour loops, which seemed impossible to me. When she powered up Hogsback much faster than us, my fear that finishing was beyond my abilities was seemingly confirmed. (I believe that she did not quite finish, making it to 93 miles just after the cutoff there.) The descent to Paradise Park at the end of that leg was especially leisurely and unfocused, being more about the conversation and less about the race. I remember wondering what Noé was thinking, but I never asked, frankly glad to have a break. Looking back at the data, this was by far my worst leg, losing 49 minutes compared to my plan (the next worst leg lost 24 minutes). Despite that we made it to the 100K point before it got light Sunday morning, which was better than my fastest previous time by just under four hours.

The climb out seemed equally casual, and the descent to Nu’uanu was also slow, though in that case it was more about the treacherousness of the slick trail. The final leg to the 80-mile cutoff seemed more focused due to “smelling the barn,” though it was the hottest leg of the race and I ran out of water. In the end we missed the 80-mile cutoff by 1:06:55, and my plan by over two hours.

Loop 5 (miles 81-100)

This is what I did not get to do because I missed the cutoff.

Lessons

As they say (or I do, anyway), this was “yet another f-ing growth opportunity.”  Here are a few things in particular, some reiterating what I said before:

  • Stay focused and retain ownership of getting to the finish line. This is critical.
  • Expect and even embrace the pain. Other runners were hobbling around the party the next day, and I could walk almost normally, so I probably wasn’t trying as hard as most of them were.
  • Train for stepping down from high drop-offs. That hurt a lot in the later miles.
  • Stay ahead of any chafing issues. This was most problematic in some sensitive areas starting in loop 4, though in contrast my feet were blister-free.
  • Practice with poles. I had some, but hardly practiced with them at all leading up to the race. So while Noé and I considered having me use them on loop 4, I opted not to.
  • Get a waist- or chest-level light. Headlamps are very close to your eyes, so they cast shadows that are directly behind obstacles, making the obstacles hard to see. My normal solution is a handheld flashlight, but that precludes using poles.
  • Buy enough good flashlights so I can have one in each drop bag. It’s not worth trying to predict where I might need one, or to risk using a bad flashlight in an important race. (And yes, a $50 flashlight is much better than a $5 or $10 one.)
  • Have the capacity to carry more water. Running out of water on the last leg I completed is not good.

I can finish this race, even at my advanced age! Ernie Floyd, who is six years older than me, ran the race again this year after being 0-for-4 in the past. He finished, and had well over 90 minutes to spare. Coincidentally, my next attempt will be my 5th try.

Lastly, since getting from where I was this year to where I need to be is more about the mental game than the physical one (though both definitely help!), I bought a book called The Ultra Mindset, by Travis Macy. I knew about the book already, but as it turns out Travis ran HURT for his first time this year. He not only finished, but he tied for 5th. I’m only a little way into the book so far, but I think it’s helping.

If I work hard on all of those things, plus everything I already did for this attempt, I will be able to finish this race!

Oscar® Predictions for 2015

February 25, 2016

Here are my predictions for the Oscar winners for films made in 2015:

  • Picture: The Revenant
  • Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu for The Revenant
  • Actor: Leonardo DiCaprio for The Revenant
  • Actress: Brie Larson for Room
  • Supporting actor: Sylvester Stallone for Creed
  • Supporting actress: Alicia Vikander for The Danish Girl
  • Original screenplay: Spotlight
  • Adapted screenplay: The Big Short
  • Cinematography: The Revenant
  • Editing: Mad Max: Fury Road
  • Animated feature: Inside Out
  • Documentary feature: Amy
  • Foreign language feature: Son of Saul (Hungary)
  • Production design: Mad Max: Fury Road
  • Costumes: Cinderella
  • Makeup: Mad Max: Fury Road
  • Score: The Hateful Eight
  • Song: “Til It Happens to You” from The Hunting Ground
  • Sound editing: Mad Max: Fury Road
  • Sound mixing: Mad Max: Fury Road
  • Visual effects: Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens
  • Animated short: Sanjay’s Super Team
  • Documentary short: Body Team 12
  • Live action short: Ave Maria

My primary sources were GoldDerby and PredictWise. The ones that seem to have the least consensus are costumes, sound mixing, and visual effects.

Rio del Lago 100, November 7-8, 2015

November 18, 2015

Background and Pre-race

Rio del Lago is a 100 mile footrace in the Sierra foothills. It’s been about 5 years since I’ve written up a race report, but it seems like one is in order this time.

This was not my real target race, which feels kind of snotty to say. My real target race is the one I have started three times but never finished, which is the HURT (Hawaii Ultra Running Team) 100 miler, coming up in mid-January 2016. But as it has been three years since I last finished any 100 mile race (Javelina in 2012) due to a stress fracture in 2013, it seemed foolish to go into HURT without a recent successful 100 mile finish. Or as I told some people, I needed to re-wrap my head around the 100 mile distance. That this wasn’t my target also explains why I ran a hilly 50K race just two weeks before this race.

Rio del Lago is a trail race, but it is on the easier side of the spectrum of trail 100 milers, primarily due to having less than 10,000′ of climbing. There I go, sounding snotty again. 100 miles on foot is never easy. Even trail 50K’s are never completely easy. But that combined with having a pretty good 12 months (with personal records at Quad Dipsea, 50 miles, 100K, and even the road half marathon), I was hoping to have a relatively fast time. My plan was for 27 hours, with a previous personal record (PR) of 26:11:53. The overall time limit was 30 hours.

I hadn’t arranged a pacer until fairly close to the race, but Norm agreed to help. He had run this race as his first 100 miler the prior year, though on a somewhat harder course than the one we had this time. The plan was for him to join me when I first got to the aid station at the Cool fire station, at the 52 mile mark. My wife Connie agreed to be my crew, at least during normal waking hours, and even more importantly to drive me home afterwards.

I got a ride to the start with another runner that I ran into on my way to the hotel elevator, which allowed Connie to sleep in. I got to the race in plenty of time before the start, and noticed that it was a little colder than I expected.

First Half

The race started on time at 5:00 am with roughly 327 runners. The early parts of the course were the easiest, including a lot of paved paths and only a few hills. At 19.2 miles we came back through where we started. I left my flashlight in my drop bag and kept moving, a bit over 30 minutes ahead of my plan. The next aid station, 5.1 miles later, is where I first expected to see Connie. But I got there at 9:33 am vs. a plan of 10:26 am, so I missed her. Besides not seeing her, that also meant that I couldn’t get the Vespa (a product that purports to enhance fat burning, which reduces the need to take in quite so many carbohydrates) I was planning to take at 11 am. Oh well, it wasn’t a showstopper, and in retrospect I should have put it in my drop bag just in case this happened. Forgetting that the next segment was 8.7 miles and not refilling my hydration pack was a bigger mistake, but also not fatal.

I got the the Rattlesnake Bar aid station (mile 35.8) at around 12:22 pm, which was just over an hour ahead of my plan. This time Connie was there. Yay!  I resupplied, with George and Kristin of Coastside Running Club (there to crew another club member) helping refill my pack. I also grabbed a flashlight, since my plan didn’t have me reaching another point where I could do that (mile 52) until after dark. I was enough ahead of schedule that that shouldn’t be necessary, but better safe than sorry.

The segments from Rattlesnake Bar to the aid station at the Cool fire station included a couple of big climbs, which I had accounted for in my planned paces for those segments. It also included going across the famous No Hands Bridge, which is an iconic part of the Western States course. I generally kept on track or gained on my plan, arriving in Cool (mile 52) at 4:39 pm vs. my plan of 6:05 pm. Given Norm’s schedule I was pretty sure I was going to get there before him and have to run one 8 mile loop without him, but since Connie dropped him off before finding parking, he was there and ready to go. He talked me into getting my headlamp (in addition to the handheld light I had carried from Rattlesnake Bar). The parking was insane, but luckily the course followed the road that the cars were parking along, so we did see Connie walking from the car before we turned off the road onto the trail.

Second Half

Despite being so far ahead of my plan, I had been moderating my effort all day, so I still had something left for the second half. Norm got me running a bit more than I had been, and we talked while the sun went down. And when it went down it did get colder, and I started to wonder if the arm warmers I had in my pack would be sufficiently warm for the middle of the night. My windbreaker was in Connie’s car, but given how far that was parked from the aid station, I thought it might not be an option.

But while we were running that loop, Connie was able to repark substantially closer to the aid station, though still several minutes away. In the spirit of “better safe than sorry,” and considering that we didn’t expect to see Connie again until the finish line, we did hang around longer so that I would have the windbreaker. As it turns out I never did wear it, but I would probably still make that decision if I had it to do again.

This was definitely the longest aid station stop of the race, with the combination of the wait for the windbreaker, taking in plenty of calories (around then might have been when I first tried the egg and cheese burritos, which worked great for me), and making sure I had everything else I needed from Connie or my drop bag. But eventually we headed out for the same 8 mile loop, though this time in the opposite direction. We made reasonable time (we didn’t memorize the splits, but Norm is pretty sure the second loop was faster than the first), getting back to the Cool  aid station (mile 68 this time) at 9:13 pm vs. my plan of 10:32 pm.

Next was back down to No Hands Bridge, and then up to the Camp Flint Gate aid station (mile 75.3). This was the last big climb of the race, but definitely not the last climb. By then my first GPS finally started saying it was running low on battery, so I swapped to the second one, which I had been carrying since mile 60.

A couple more segments got us back to the Rattlesnake Bar aid station (mile 84.2) at 2:00 am vs. my plan of 3:15 am. Next was the Horseshoe Bar aid station (mile 87) a bit before 3:18 am (that is when I texted Connie that we had just left) vs. my plan of 4:03 am, so that segment was slower than planned. In that text I estimated finishing between 6:30 and 7:30 am.

Around this time Norm told me that if I needed to drop him and go on ahead, I should feel free to do so. This segment to the last aid station was a long one (8.7 miles), and we stuck together for a while, but eventually I did pull ahead and didn’t see him again until the finish. This was also a section with a lot of rocks, affectionately called the “meat grinder.” I had hardly noticed the rocks in the other direction, but they did get my attention now. But given my larger goal of finishing the very rocky (and rooty, and often muddy) HURT course, I pushed myself a bit harder than I would have normally. I reminded myself that accepting some pain, and even seeking it out to a small degree, was good mental preparation. Even so this segment took me about 25 minutes longer than planned, arriving at 6:02 am vs. my plan of 6:25 am. Part of that was caused by a twisty section that had me thinking I was going in circles and repeating the same trails. A later review of the GPS data indicates that I was not actually lost, but I know that that uncertainty contributed to my slowness.

A bit later I called Connie to tell her that even a 7:30 am finish might have been optimistic. She was already at the finish, though, so this didn’t help her get any more sleep. Oh, well, might as well keep pushing and see what happens.

The last section was listed on the web site as 5.7 miles. I should have noticed that the same section on the way out was only listed as 5.1 miles, and the shorter actual distance, combined with the much easier terrain than the prior segment, made a difference. As I got within sight of the finish I started to wonder if a PR might actually still be in reach. Based on what I could tell, it probably was, if I kept running. What I hadn’t counted on was that the course made a big loop around the parking lot before we actually finished, so I missed my PR by less than two minutes. My finishing time was 26:13:23.

Thoughts

All in all I was very happy with how things turned out. I finished. I held back enough in the first half to run well in the second half, moving up about 40 places from mile 52 to the finish. I pushed into enough pain to remind myself what that is like, but not so much that it required much downtime from training—I was running again three days later. I also didn’t fall.

On the “could do it better” front, I didn’t plan well for warm clothes, I took too long at several aid stations, I need to train better for the steep climbs at HURT, and I got a couple of blisters.

Bottom line: I’m back!

 

Oscar® Predictions for 2014

February 17, 2015

Here are my predictions for the Oscar winners for films made in 2014:

  • Picture: Birdman
  • Director: Richard Linklater for Boyhood
  • Actor: Eddie Redmayne for The Theory of Everything
  • Actress: Julianne Moore for Still Alice
  • Supporting actor: J.K. Simmons for Whiplash
  • Supporting actress: Patricia Arquette for Boyhood
  • Original screenplay: The Grand Budapest Hotel
  • Adapted screenplay: The Imitation Game
  • Cinematography: Birdman
  • Editing: Boyhood
  • Animated feature: How to Train Your Dragon 2
  • Documentary feature: Citizenfour
  • Foreign language feature: Ida (Poland)
  • Production design: The Grand Budapest Hotel
  • Costumes: The Grand Budapest Hotel
  • Makeup: The Grand Budapest Hotel
  • Score: The Theory of Everything
  • Song: “Glory” from Selma
  • Sound editing: American Sniper
  • Sound mixing: Whiplash
  • Visual effects: Interstellar
  • Animated short: Feast
  • Documentary short: Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1
  • Live action short: The Phone Call

My primary sources were GoldDerby and PredictWise. Best picture and director are particularly challenging to predict this year.

The Beers of Cinequest 2014

April 20, 2014

Cinequest wasn’t just a good time at the movies last month. I also took advantage of my time in downtown San Jose to try a bunch of new beers. First I’ll list the places I had beer during Cinequest (Yelp links, in alphabetical order):

  • Good Karma: The food is vegan, and while I enjoy the taste of animals as a part of most lunches and dinners, the one time I ate there it was quite tasty. And the beer selection seems quite good, especially including the bottled beers which I did not take advantage of (yet).
  • ISO Beers: This place is brand new as of February 2014. Their selection seems very good, though so far their traffic is not enough to allow them to change often enough for my taste. Their largest pours are only 12 ounces, which is actually a feature since it allows tasting more beers. They serve no food but because of that, they allow you to bring in outside food. They also have a nice and growing selection of bottled beers that you can drink there or take out.
  • Original Gravity Public House: This is my model for how to do a beer bar, though it’s not quite perfect. My favorite feature is that their web site is automatically updated from the same data that drives the display in the bar itself, so the web site is 100% up-to-date. My second favorite feature is that they change what’s on tap often enough that there’s is always something new, even if you drink as many new beers as I do. The minor drawback is that the wide selection sometimes leads me to beers that I don’t actually like all that well. Their second drawback is that the food they serve (mostly sausages and fries) isn’t very healthy.

And these are the beers I had during the festival (ratebeer links, in chronological order, GK=Good Karma, ISO=ISO Beers, and OG=Original Gravity; the ratings are out of 5 stars):

I actually had a couple of others not listed above, but these are the ones I checked into on Untappd (a cool social beer tracker site and app—let me know if you sign up and want to connect).

With my highest rated beers generally being imperial IPAs, imperial porters, barley wines, and a sour, it seems safe to say that I like beers with a ton of flavor.