Archive for December, 2008

Well, that worked out well

December 27, 2008

A week ago today I completed the Rodeo Beach 50K, which was my third 50K in as many Saturdays, which seemed like a questionable plan to some, but frankly that just made me want to prove them wrong. At the first one (Woodside), my goal was to finish under the shorter than usual cutoff times, which pushed me to run harder and set a PR (6:14:14). At the second one (Muir Beach), the weather and the hills threatened (rain and 7130′ of climbing, respectively), but the weather almost completely held off, the hills weren’t as bad as I feared (well, maybe one was), and I managed to push at the very end to squeak in under 7 hours. This time I wanted to finish faster than Muir Beach, and if possible faster than Skyline to the Sea (6:42:16) so that this would be my second fastest 50K. 6:30 was my dream goal, and given the climbing (5980′) and the conventional wisdom that the previous two 50Ks would have taken their toll, that seemed like the best I could hope for.

I guess I need to keep setting more aggressive goals, because despite some minor knee pain through the last 20K loop, I got to the last aid station in time to be pretty sure I was going to make the 6:30 goal. And then I slowed down, even walking a fair amount on the final flat sections. If I had kept up the effort a little longer, I might have managed another PR, but I was still extremely happy with the 6:16:01 time. To put it into perspective, though, that put me 45th out of 75 finishers and 14th out of 20 in my age group, so there’s still pretty of room for improvement.

Actually, the Woodside course is listed as 49.6K vs. 50.0K for this one, and therefore the official results show that my pace was slightly faster for this one (12:09 vs. 12:05 per mile). So in that sense this was a PR. My 150bpm average heart rate was also the highest I’ve sustained for an ultra, so despite the slacking off at the end, I did push pretty hard.

The course, starting at Rodeo Beach and covering quite a bit of the Marin Headlands, was great. There was rain the day before and the day after, but everything was gorgeous that day. One view of downtown San Francisco practically took my breath away (and reminds me once again that I need to start carrying a camera). I’m not sure how Pacific Coast Trail Runs manages to keep picking the good days, but I’m not complaining.

I would like to thank Harald Walther, who drove me up to the race, won our age group, waited around patiently for the almost 90 minutes after that before I finished, and wouldn’t accept anything more than bridge toll for his driving. I also talked to Tom Harry, who remembered me from the Headlands 50 miler, Kate Morejohn, who was also at Headlands among other PCTR events, and Chuck Wilson, who seems to be at all of these events.

Lastly, I would really like to thank everyone who donated to Second Harvest Food Bank through the link I set up for this series of runs. It gave the runs a little more meaning, and it will do a great deal of good this holiday season.

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Happy New Year, and all the rest!

Two Down, One to Go

December 15, 2008

If you read my previous post, you know I’ve signed up for three 50K trail runs over three consecutive Saturdays. This one started and finished at Muir Beach up in Marin County, and it had the most total climbing (7130′) of the three. My goals, in order from most to least achievable, were 1) to finish, 2) to finish in under 8 hours, 3) to finish in under 7 1/2 hours, and 4) to finish under 7 hours. I didn’t think I had much of a chance at that last one, but I did give myself an incentive to make the 7 1/2 hour goal, namely that I wouldn’t go have a pint of Guiness at the Pelican Inn (closer to the race than where I was able to park) unless I made that goal.

The weather was predicted to be marginal, with some rain likely, though the low temperature (mostly in the 40s, Fahrenheit) actually tends to suit me well. As it turns out, it only rained for maybe 15 minutes, though that was cold enough that I did take a couple of minutes to get out my windbreaker (and another minute at the 33K aid station stop to put it away).

I actually think the runners signed up for the 11K event may have had it the worst, at least on a per mile basis, because the two nastiest climbs were in that section. Of course that meant the 50K runners did both of those climbs twice. The worst of those had steep stairs (wooden steps fastened down with cables) followed by what seemed like an even steeper incline. The first time I went up that section I noticed that my GPS thought I was going at about 48 minutes/mile pace (3 times slower than walking on level ground). The second time, 33K later, I stopped after the stairs to catch my breath. Someone passed me at that point, and apparently I looked bad enough that he asked me, twice, if I was okay. That was probably the low point for the day, though my right knee hurting for several miles was a close second. Surprisingly, the knee just seemed to work itself out and seemed fine by the end of the run.

In the middle 6K of the last 17K loop, I was surprised to come across the Sausalito VOR, which is a radio navigation aid for pilots. As a former private pilot, that was cool to see. There’s a picture of it on Flickr.

In the last segment, which was 4.7K from the Tennessee Valley aid station to the finish, I knew I was going to make 7 1/2 hours and I was even pretty sure I was going to make 7 1/4 hours. After I finished the second nastiest climb (because it seemed to climb higher than you thought any of the local mountains could go) for the second time of the day and was on the final descent, I was actually torn between hurrying and slowing down. The temptation to slow down was to sandbag a bit so that the third 50K a week later could more easily be faster than the second. But when I saw the parking lot come into view and looked at my watch, I realized I had a shot at beating 7 hours, so I went for it. And I finished in 6:59:53!

Even with that time, which is my third fastest 50K only behind two with far less climbing, I was 40th out of 54 finishers and 9th out of 11 in my age group. But I did manage to push myself to an average heart rate of 146bpm for almost 7 hours, proving again that my old 140bpm limit no longer applies. And I think it’s also my best time as a percentage of the winner’s time (149%).

So not only does the plan to do three 50Ks in 15 days no longer seem crazy, I’m actually thinking that come 12/27 I’m going to wonder why there’s no race to attend. I guess I’ll have to catch up on my Oscar-hopeful movie watching instead. And I’m also scheduled to donate blood on 12/22.

Speaking of charity, if you can afford to and haven’t already, please see the previous post in this series and give to Second Harvest Food Bank. Thanks for your support on that!

One Down, Two to Go

December 11, 2008

Last Saturday I completed Pacific Coast Trail RunsWoodside 50K trail run. It was a great day.

The course starts and ends in Huddart Park, which has fairly short hours (8 to 5) at this time of year. The overall time limit for the 50K was 8 hours, which is an hour shorter than most of PCTR’s 50Ks. More importantly, PCTR set a 2 hour and 50 minute cut-off at the 19K point, and since that 19K includes a good part of the day’s climbing (about 4500′ total), it seemed like the cut-off might actually be a factor.

Back at my first 50K in June, I had a 140bpm average heart rate and felt like I was going to die, so I’ve run 50Ks somewhat easier than that since then. But last month when I ran the Stinson Beach 50K (no blog report), I averaged 143bpm and felt fine. So that more recent experience combined with the aggressive cut-off led me to push substantially harder at the start of this race, aiming for a heart rate range of 140 to 155bpm. After I made the cutoff with almost 30 minutes to spare, I kept up the effort. And when I got to the end, I actually thought it seemed too easy, though of course having spent so much less time (6:14:14, faster than Skyline to the Sea (no blog report), which is mostly downhill), maybe that’s not surprising. My average heart rate ended up being 148bpm.

Before the race started I finally met fellow Coastside Running Club member George Miller. This was apparently his first ultra after an injury that kept him away for a long time, but he did great and was in good spirits every time we crossed paths. I also spent some time talking to Tom O’Connell, and Scott Dunlap caught a picture of Tom and I and included it in his blog entry (I’m the third one of the three in the photo).

Even though this run was my personal record (PR) for a 50K, I was 33rd out of 49 finishers, and 12th out of 14 in my age group. It’s a tough age group, and in fact I would have placed slightly better if I was 10 years younger.

The reason this post is titled One Down, Two to Go is that I’m also scheduled to do the Muir Beach and Rodeo Beach 50Ks on 12/13 and 12/20, which totals 93 miles over a period of 15 days, not including any other runs I do in between (about 12 miles in the four days after Woodside, as it turns out). At the time I signed up for these three events it seemed like a stretch, but at the moment it seems like a great idea.

The other great idea was to use these three events to help raise money for one of my favorite charities, Second Harvest Food Bank. They are getting a big increase in requests and a decrease in corporate donations.

Here’s how to help:

  1. Go to
  2. Select Friends and Family Drive for Donor Type
  3. Select Mike’s Absurd Series of Runs for Organization Name
  4. Click the Next button
  5. On the next page click the Donate Now button
  6. Then you can choose particular foods to donate, or at the bottom of the page you can just enter an amount
  7. When you’re done with that, click the Donate button on the right near the bottom of the page
  8. Then finish by entering your information to pay

Here’s how I’ll keep it interesting. If I don’t finish all three events, I’ll reimburse you according to how many I do complete. Send me an e-mail if you want me to let you know how I do.

If you’re doing okay, help someone who’s not. Thanks.