Over the Hill at the 2021 Western States 100?

July 16, 2021

When I ran the iconic Western States Endurance Run in 2013, I started with an issue in my foot, namely a stress response (which is basically the precursor to a stress fracture) in a metatarsal. In those days there was no wait list, so I decided to give it a try since not starting wouldn’t let anyone else run. That injury turned into an actual stress fracture fairly early in the race, and it was also an especially hot year. As a result I was the very last person through several aid stations and eventually missed the cutoff at Devil’s Thumb (mile 47.8). That injury knocked me out of ultrarunning for over a year, because naturally I kept trying to come back before it was fully healed. By 2016 I was actually running better than I was before the stress response and fracture.

Seven years after that first attempt, I was scheduled to have another chance to run it, thanks to the Coastside Running Club, which runs the Auburn Lake Trails aid station at mile 85.2, entitling the club to an entry into the race. I belong, and volunteered with them many times at Western States and other runs, and got picked in a drawing for their 2020 spot. After an extra year of delay due to the pandemic, it was time to try again.

In the meantime, I had moved to Honolulu. I hired Travis Macy to coach me, and Dina Griffin for nutrition advice. And despite having turned 60 years old, I felt like I had a good chance at finishing this time. My plan targeted a 28-hour finish. The final cutoff is 30 hours, so that didn’t leave a ton of room for error, but I semi-secretly hoped to beat my plan.

But the day had its own plans. The early climbs had my heart rate higher than I wanted or expected, and despite that by the first aid station at mile 10.3, I was behind not only my plan but even the 30-hour pace: my plan was 7:29 AM, 30-hour pace is 7:40 AM, and my actual time was 7:54 AM. Ouch! By Robinson Flat (mile 30.3), my plan was 12:36 PM, 30-hour pace is 1:10 PM, and my actual time was 1:43 PM. They use air horns to tell you when you’re getting close to the cutoff, and I heard the 30- and 20-minute warnings there. It felt like I was ahead of where I was in 2013, but it turns out that the Robinson Flat cutoff has been extended by 20 minutes since then, so I was actually there at about the same time.

Over the next few aid stations I tried to make up time, hoping that if I could stay ahead of the cutoffs and maybe gain a little bit on them, the cooler night air might save me later. I did gain a little bit relative to the cutoff at Miller’s Defeat (the aid station after Robinson Flat), but all the way through Devil’s Thumb (mile 47.8) I was less than 30 minutes ahead of the cutoffs. And that means I remained well behind the 30-hour pace. I think it was also in the section leading to Devil’s Thumb that I first noticed that my stability was a little off, but I assumed it was temporary and ignored it.

On my way down to the next aid station (El Dorado Creek, mile 52.9), I started to wonder if I was leaning to one side (I can never tell for sure). “The Leans,” as I and others have come to call them, had been my downfall at the Tahoe 200. They were also a major issue in several other 100-mile races, when they had come on at mile 75 or later, and generally when I still had a time cushion. But for them to start at only the halfway point when I was also behind the pace needed to finish was going to be a Big Problem. I asked an El Dorado Creek aid station worker if I was leaning, and specifically requested that she be honest. Answer: Yes, I was leaning. Cr*p.

A key promise to myself and to others was that I would keep going until I either made it to the finish or was told I had to stop. So despite being almost certain that I would not be finishing, I continued on. In retrospect I suspect that I could have done this next segment somewhat faster than I did, but only by a little. As it was I arrived at Michigan Bluff (mile 55.7) just barely in time to get what I needed and leave before the final air horn blast signaling the station was closed. I was one of five runners who left in the last minute it was open, and (spoiler alert!) none of us finished (the last person to leave Michigan Bluff and finish was about eight minutes ahead of us, and that was the last woman through Michigan Bluff—lesson: women are tougher than men).

Actually, if a network of friends had not found a pacer for me, whom I first met there at Michigan Bluff, I probably would not have made it out in time, since she (Andrea) got the stuff from my drop bag while I got water. So in keeping with my commitment to keep going if I wasn’t forced to stop, I kept going.

That may not have been the best decision from a safety point of view, though I’m still glad I made it. I think. Besides the lean, I had started to have significantly reduced stability (well beyond the ignored warning sign I got before Devil’s Thumb). Poles and similar devices were specifically disallowed by race rules, so I resisted finding a stick for a while. Eventually at Andrea’s urging I relented, and it helped keep me from falling over a few times. Andrea also helped catch me more than once. Later the course sweeps caught up to us, and one of them took over that task from Andrea. I think I only fell all the way to the ground once, but if there hadn’t been a person, branch, or something else handy, I would have fallen several more times.

Since I was already way beyond the cutoff at the next aid station (Foresthill, mile 62.0), when Andrea found a cell signal she called a friend to pick us up when we reached Bath Road, saving me about a mile and a half of very slow walking. Once I was delivered to Foresthill I officially dropped (the aid station captain, who was there at least an hour after the cutoff, cut off my wrist band, making it official), and was reunited with my wife Connie, who was very relieved to see me. The dreaded DNF (Did Not Finish)…

Western States is a race that is very hard to get into. If I ever tried it again I would have to be even more sure I could finish it than I (erroneously) was this time. That seems extremely unlikely, since my preparation this time was quite thorough, and of course I’m also not getting any younger. So I will leave that spot for other runners. Note that a few years ago I made a similar decision about the HURT 100 race. And I’ll very likely also leave my DNF at the Bighorn 100 unavenged.

What will my running life look like from here on? I’m not sure yet. Because I have nine finishes in 100-mile races, I would like to get at least one more before I retire from that distance. I would like to continue to run some shorter ultras indefinitely. Fixed-time events (e.g., 24 hours) are attractive. I would like to run the Grand Canyon rim-to-rim-to-rim (preferably in one day, but I’m open to taking two days). I would like to improve my swimming enough to consider an iron-distance triathlon. I might want to train to run a marathon fast enough for Boston’s prior (up to 2012) qualifying standards (the new ones seem way out of reach). Figuring out the lean would obviously be good, and my prior assumption that it is purely about core strength does not seem to be correct. So I have rough plans, and my goal is to be less mono-focused.

Running, or even attempting to run, a 100-mile race is much easier when you have help. I had quite a bit, and so I would like to thank the following people, some of whom have already been mentioned above:

  • Connie, my very supportive wife and crew
  • Travis Macy, my running coach
  • Dina Griffin, my nutritionist
  • Andrea, my pacer from Michigan Bluff until close to Foresthill
  • David, a work colleague from many years ago, who would have been my pacer from Green Gate (mile 79.8) to the finish, if I had gotten that far
  • Dennis, a good friend who was willing to drive David to Green Gate in the middle of the night, and who in the days leading up to the race made at least two reconnaissance trips to make sure he knew where that was
  • The members of Coastside Running Club, who gave me the spot in the race

Oscar® Predictions for 2020

April 23, 2021

Here are my predictions for the Oscar winners for movies released in 2020 (and early 2021):

  • Picture: The Trial of the Chicago 7
  • Director: Chloe Zhao for Nomadland
  • Actor: Chadwick Boseman for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
  • Actress: Carey Mulligan for Promising Young Woman
  • Supporting actor: Daniel Kaluuya for Judas and the Black Messiah
  • Supporting actress: Yuh-Jung Youn for Minari
  • Original screenplay: Promising Young Woman
  • Adapted screenplay: Nomadland
  • Cinematography: Nomadland
  • Editing: The Trial of the Chicago 7
  • Animated feature: Soul
  • Documentary feature: My Octopus Teacher
  • International feature: Another Round (Denmark)
  • Production design: Mank
  • Costumes: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
  • Makeup: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
  • Score: Soul
  • Song: “Speak Now” from One Night in Miami
  • Sound: Sound of Metal
  • Visual effects: Tenet
  • Animated short: If Anything Happens I Love You
  • Documentary short: A Love Song for Latasha
  • Live action short: Two Distant Strangers

Most years I have seen at least the Best Picture nominees, and thanks to being able to watch everything at home and not being in the middle of a long distance move, that is true again this year. My primary source was GoldDerby (mostly the “experts” predictions). The ones that seem to have the least consensus are actress, adapted screenplay, editing, and documentary short. There is fairly clear consensus that Nomadland will win Best Picture, but I am somewhat boldly predicting The Trial of the Chicago 7 will win because I think it will have an advantage with the preferential ballot used for that category. I’m also picking that movie for editing because the Academy seems to go for movies that have a lot of obvious editing. And lastly I’m picking Carey Mulligan over Viola Davis for actress primarily because Davis has won before.

Podcasts

April 26, 2020

These are the podcasts I listen to, at least occasionally. Within each category they are roughly ranked. Since many people have more spare time during the pandemic, it seemed like a good time to write this.

In case anyone cares, I almost always listen using an app called Podcast Addict on my phone. It lets you download episodes to listen where reception might be spotty, keep a playlist of episodes you want to hear in the order you want to hear them, and have fine-grained control over the playback speed (I generally listen between 1.2 and 1.5 times normal speed). I used to listen primarily while driving, when I drove enough for that to make sense. Since retiring, and even more so during the pandemic, I listen mostly when running, using bone conducting headphones so that I can still hear my surroundings.

[Originally published on 4/26/2020, and updated on 5/14/2020]

Running:

  • Trail Runner Nation: The two hosts don’t take themselves too seriously, but still get real often enough to make it compelling. They also generally have good guests.
  • Running Stupid: This podcast is published pretty irregularly, and is often more stream of consciousness than planned, but I’m happy to say that the host is a friend.
  • Ultrarunner Podcast: The host has some obsessions and opinions that he has a hard time imagining anyone disagreeing with, but the range of guests is quite good.
  • Endurance Planet: I started listening to this before the current hosts took over in 2011, and before I found the other options above. Still, though, there are good nuggets often enough to keep me listening to most episodes.
  • For the Long Run: I wasn’t going to mention this one since I rarely listen to it, but since the host’s coach is David Roche, I do listen when he’s the guest. He (Roche) might be the most awesomely positive person I know of. Just today (4/26/2020) I was listening to him when I took a fall on a sidewalk, and right after that happened, Roche talked about saying yes, thank you when something bad happens.

Politics:

Movies:

  • Filmspotting: One of the if not the first podcast I started to listen to back when podcasts first came to the iPod in 2005. Filmspotting was called Cinecast back then, and had only been around for about 9 of their now 774 episodes. They review current movies, though definitely not all of them and with a focus on ones expected to be good. They also look back at older movies, and almost all episodes have a top five list, in the spirit of High Fidelity (which was set in Chicago, where this podcast is based).
  • The Next Picture Show: This is a spin-off of Filmspotting, and each pair of episodes compares and contrasts a current movie with an older film, such as Marriage Story with Kramer vs. Kramer. There are frequently spoilers, so don’t listen if you haven’t seen both movies and think you might want to someday.
  • The Treatment: This KCRW podcast almost always interviews people involved in a current movie or television show. Elvis Mitchell is the host, and often finds connections that the guests had never considered before.
  • Film Reviews: This KCRW podcast has short reviews of current movies.
  • Unspooled: The hosts review the AFI top 100 movies of all time. Sometimes one or both of them will not have seen the movie before, but they often have interesting guests who were involved in making the movie or have an interesting perspective on it.
  • Movie Crush: The host has guests (celebrities, to one degree or another) talk about their favorite movie in depth.

Money:

  • Planet Money: I first became aware of this podcast because of a 2008 episode of This American Life (see the “Other” category) called The Giant Pool of Money, about the financial crisis. The people who did that particular episode went on to create this podcast.
  • The Indicator from Planet Money: This is a spin-off from the main Planet Money podcast, runs every weekday, and is a short (under 10 minutes) look at some current financial story.

Growth:

  • The Happiness Lab: This is a Pushkin podcast (like four podcasts in the “Other” category), from a Yale professor who created a class about how to be happier. She uses actual science to point out ways that our brain often makes choices that make us less happy. She did one season, came back with many extra episodes to help people get through the pandemic, and season two has started.
  • One Extraordinary Marriage: I was looking for a podcast about improving marriages, and this is the best one I’ve found so far. The hosts are far more religious than I am, and it emphasizes sex a bit more than I would have chosen, but there are almost always good nuggets in every episode.
  • Unlocking Us: This is a new podcast from Brené Brown, which I heard about when she was on 60 Minutes recently. It’s not up to the level of her TED talk or her recent Netflix special (watch those if you haven’t already), but it’s still worth listening to.
  • Crooked Butterfly: This is done by a former special forces military guy, and is also tangentially about running. I originally heard him interviewed on Trail Runner Nation, and find his philosophy interesting, if a bit absolute/extreme, at times.

Beer:

  • The Beerists: This podcast seems good, though I’ve only listed to a couple of episodes so far.
  • Craft Beer Radio: This was a great podcast, but hasn’t published any new episodes since July 2019. I hope it returns someday.
  • Beer Guys Radio: This podcast is merely okay, but there aren’t many choices out there if you are not in the industry and don’t homebrew.

Other:

  • 99% Invisible: My wife turned me onto this Radiotopia podcast to listen to a couple of basketball-related episodes, about the introduction of the shot clock and the 3-point shot. But it’s so much more than that.
  • Against the Rules: This podcast by Michael Lewis (author of many excellent books including Moneyball and The Big Short) is from Pushkin. Season 2 recently started.
  • This American Life: If you know podcasts, or even public radio, you probably know this one already. I might have put it at the top of the “Other” list, but I wanted to give the first two more visibility.
  • Revisionist History: This podcast from Malcolm Gladwell (Outliers, The Tipping Point, etc.) is usually excellent. It’s part of the Pushkin family of podcasts.
  • Cautionary Tales: This is another Pushkin podcast, and is about things that went wrong. The host is Tim Harford, who is a frequent guest on other podcasts I listen to. Some parts are done as audio reenactments.
  • Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me: This should probably be higher, since my wife loves it. But for that reason I’ve mostly not listened to it so we have something to share for road trips. But now that we’ve moved to Hawaii there won’t be many of those, especially during the pandemic.
  • KQED Forum: I used to listen to more episodes of this, from the primary Bay Area public radio station, but still listen on occasion when the subject is one I want to learn more about from people I trust. The regular host, Michael Krasny, is a very good interviewer.
  • Twenty Thousand Hertz: This is a podcast about sounds, like the Wilhelm scream, which you should learn about if you haven’t already.
  • Solvable: At first I was really a fan of this Pushkin/Rockefeller Foundation podcast, about how to solve problems that seem unsolvable, like homelessness. But for whatever reason I haven’t listened to it recently. If I do, it could easily rise on this list.

Oscar® Predictions for 2019

February 6, 2020

Here are my predictions for the Oscar winners for films made in 2019:

  • Picture: 1917
  • Director: Sam Mendes for 1917
  • Actor: Joaquin Phoenix for Joker
  • Actress: Renée Zellweger for Judy
  • Supporting actor: Brad Pitt for Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
  • Supporting actress: Laura Dern for Marriage Story
  • Original screenplay: Parasite
  • Adapted screenplay: Jojo Rabbit
  • Cinematography: 1917
  • Editing: Ford v Ferrari
  • Animated feature: Toy Story 4
  • Documentary feature: American Factory
  • International feature: Parasite (South Korea)
  • Production design: Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood
  • Costumes: Little Women
  • Makeup: Bombshell
  • Score: Joker
  • Song: “I’m Gonna to Love Me Again” from Rocketman
  • Sound editing: 1917
  • Sound mixing: 1917
  • Visual effects: 1917
  • Animated short: Hair Love
  • Documentary short: Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone
  • Live action short: Brotherhood

Most years I have seen at least the Best Picture nominees, but this has not been a normal year (as of when I’m posting this I’ve only seen three out of nine). My primary source was GoldDerby, and this year I didn’t have the time to consult more sources. The ones that seem to have the least consensus are editing, visual effects, and live action short.

Oscar® Predictions for 2018

February 22, 2019

Here are my predictions for the Oscar winners for films made in 2018:

  • Picture: Green Book (most people are predicting Roma)
  • Director: Alfonso Cuarón for Roma
  • Actor: Rami Malek for Bohemian Rhapsody
  • Actress: Glenn Close for The Wife
  • Supporting actor: Mahershala Ali for Green Book
  • Supporting actress: Regina King for If Beale Street Could Talk
  • Original screenplay: The Favourite
  • Adapted screenplay: BlacKkKlansman
  • Cinematography: Roma
  • Editing: Vice
  • Animated feature: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
  • Documentary feature: Free Solo
  • Foreign language feature: Roma (Mexico)
  • Production design: The Favourite
  • Costumes: Black Panther
  • Makeup: Vice
  • Score: If Beale Street Could Talk
  • Song: “Shallow” from A Star is Born
  • Sound editing: First Man
  • Sound mixing: Bohemian Rhapsody
  • Visual effects: Avengers: Infinity War
  • Animated short: Bao
  • Documentary short: Period. End of Sentence.
  • Live action short: Marguerite

My primary source was GoldDerby, though I also looked at metacritic. The ones that seem to have the least consensus are editing, production design, costumes (especially this one!), sound editing, and documentary short.

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…

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.