Tag Archives: Marisa

Headlands 50M – 2017

September 9, 2017

For the past several months, Alan has been talking to me about running his first 50 mile race.  The plan HAD been to do Avalon 50M in January, as this was the event where we got to know each other better (seemingly, it’s the event where I actually remember the people I meet).  However, he tells me that it’s not a good idea if he does Avalon because his wife’s due date is within 10 days of that event, and while he could probably manage being away on a run during that time, being an hour boat ride away is probably not the best idea.

I went through the options of events I have done that occur in the summer, fall, and winter time (semi-local), and other than Twin Peaks (not a great first timer event), there are not a lot of options… but I do remember having run the Headlands 50M in 2011.  (Go ahead, look up the post – I finished, but didn’t have the best time doing so.)

I take a look at their information; I know they are under different management than when I ran the event.  In fact, the lame race director actually died and the company was sold.  One of the great disadvantages of this race (for me, at least) was that as I finished in the dark, the ribbon was hard to see (in the fog) and I was totally by myself.  A possible advantage to running the race now is that there are two longer distances available (75 and 100 miles) which means there will be others still running the course when I struggle in.

I suggest to Alan this might be a good first 50 miler – not the easiest, but scenic and logistically easy to run… and if he decides to run it, I will run it “with” him.

On Friday, his wife drops him off at my place at some ungodly hour so that we can drive up to the Bay Area and miss most of the traffic at both ends.  When we hit some traffic coming into Livermore, we use the Express Lanes (not realizing that you need a transponder to avoid a ticket – and later I get a transponder to avoid that fine).  Unlike our last ultra in the Bay Area (last month), my folks are in town so he can spend some QT with my entire family (except Riva who is not visiting).  It’s the usual of resting before a hellacious day.

Saturday morning we take the exciting drive up to the Headlands.  The fastest way to go is via the Golden Gate Bridge, which means you go across the (new) Bay Bridge, through San Francisco (the 101 is on city streets there) and a bunch of turns.  I always hate this drive by myself, but it’s slightly better with a navigator.  Once you get to the other side of the Golden Gate (not particularly scenic at 4AM), you queue up for the one-way tunnel drive which pops us out into the short foggy coastal drive down to Rodeo Beach.

The area where I had parked in the past for Miwok and this event in 2011 is blocked off for volunteers and race staging, but they direct us to park along the side of the road and we are about a half mile down from the start.

Fortunately, because we are so early, we have the time to walk over, pick up our bibs (and applicable giveaways – I opted out of everything, but I still get a cool drop bag with compartments), and drop it all back in the car.  It’s a little on the chilly side but manageable.


I spot a number of people I know that are running various distances – Megan Cheng, Ed “The Jester” Ettinghausen, Dean Karnazes, running the 100 miler; Martin Sengo doing the 75 miler, and Ken Michal in the 50 with us.

As the race gets underway, I try and keep Alan in my sights, but honestly, I have to run my own race.   My semi-goal is to be at or close to my 14:43 time of 2011 (or if I apply the “age-grade” formula here, I need to beat 15:20 or so to do an equivalent).  I know that Alan should be considerably faster than that; hence why we would not run together.

The way the course is run is that we do 25 mile loops.  When the first loop is completed, then we run the loop in reverse.  (Note:  It’s not a true loop, but the direction you run on a certain stretch of trail is determined by the loop direction.)  This certainly means that we will encounter a number of runners coming towards us and passing us at any given moment.

This first section is 4.1 miles long and will also be the last 4.1 miles of the race (and was also the last few miles of Miwok in 2009 and 2010).  For the most part, it’s a long uphill slog, including a whole bunch of uneven stairs (a bit wet) which are a total dream in the dark, let me tell you.  At the top, it’s a traverse along the coast and then eventually down a (horse) switchback that ends at Tennessee Valley.

We will hit the Tennessee Valley aid station 4 times, so that is where my drop bag is located.  I generally do not need anything in my drop bag, but I have my small TRH duffel with a spare tube of Nuun, spare batteries for my headlamp, and a tube of glow sticks (from Dollar Tree) that I intend on breaking open in my final stretch to entertain myself in the dark.

I come through in 57:45, which is a tad faster than briskly walking.  Hooray!

The next stretch goes from Tennessee Valley to Muir Beach.  There is a length lightly downhill paved section towards the coast again, and then a number of annoying climbs to a double-track trail and a number of short wooden bridges.  I know this leads to the section that I fear most, which is hundreds of uneven downhill stairs that are apt to be slippery.

Fortunately, I am mostly by myself (meaning, I don’t have people bounding by me and making me lose my concentration), though once I get to the bottom and begin the gentle climb out, a lady passes me and mentions that she’s seen me at some other ultras.  The joke is always, “Gosh you remember me?” since I know it is because I am so tall.

She says, “Well, you are the Usain Bolt of Ultrarunning.”  A strange (but apt) sobriquet.

Once I get around a number of the curves hugging the shoreline, there is a bit of a descent on a wide fire road heading down into Muir Beach.  This is a double-up section, so I do get some encouragement from Meg near her turn-off at the top and from Alan somewhere nearer the bottom.

They have done some construction since the last time I was here.  Now there is a nice (but a bit slippery) metal bridge traversing the marshy area.  In my last Miwok, we had to detour around this quite a bit.



I have been cautious on this section, especially because the stairs and the severe downhills have been tough on my knees, but I carry on through in just over an hour (at 15:52 pace).

Now I turn around, recross the bridge, and head back up the hills.  Not as much cross traffic (as I am towards the back) but the people around me are somewhat surprised at my technique of climbing the hills which is diagonal climbing.  It takes pressure off my knees and is mildly entertaining to me (I don’t listen to music so I have weird ways of keeping my mind occupied.).  There is also a trick to timing it just right so you can get around upcoming people.

This next section is another 4 miles back to Tennessee Valley but in a slightly different manner, along Coyote Ridge and not along the coast.  I kinda hate this section because it’s hard to visualize where you are heading, but once you complete the ridiculous climbing away from the coast, there is quite a bit of downhill to get back to the Valley (which is not to say I am maintaining a faster pace).

From Tennessee Valley, the course now heads out in a third different direction (first one inbound from the start, second one inbound from Muir Beach, third one outbound to the Golden Gate).  This is the second longest stretch of the course (been doing about 4 mile stretches for the first 3) at 5.9 miles and definitely has the most up-and-down of the sections.

It’s a long, long climb out of Tennessee Valley, but at the top, the view is pretty rewarding.  It’s not too foggy this year to see the Golden Gate Bridge, but it is still foggy and breezy.  The course is slightly confusing here, but I am good at following ribbons.  Because of the fog, it is more humid here and the trail is muddier.



However, to me, muddier means softer.

When I emerge from the foggy wooded section, it’s back to single-track and gusty winds.  In a couple of sections, I hold my hat in my hand so that it doesn’t blow off.  I am almost walking on this downhill section and there are now runners sprinting by me on the uphills (to be expected).  I look for the familiar faces (feel like I should have seen Meg Cheng by now – she was running so well).

Probably midway down, I encounter Alan coming back up.  He tells me he hates this section because it is so rocky and he has to continually tilt his Luna sandals to keep the pebbles out (don’t suppose gaiters would work?).

When I get to the bottom, it’s now the paved road down, down, down to the water UNDER the Golden Gate Bridge.  I hate this section because you give up the hill  entirely, and then you have to climb back out (and we will be back here again soon – yuck).

I thought the aid station would be at the bottom of the hill, but we have to turn and run alongside the water for a quarter mile or so.  The aroma of marijuana smoke is pretty strong here – gag.  I pick up a couple of orange slices and make the turnaround.  Because of the downhill, I dropped my pace from 17:30 to 16:15 per mile, but know I will probably lose all that in a quick minute here.

Now for the longest stretch, 7.1 miles (feels like an eternity).  It starts with the reverse road climb, then the switchbacks on rocky dirt in the wind, back through the muddy wood, and then a turn onto the road heading back down to Rodeo Beach.

Once I am back on the fire-road, it’s a spot-fast-folks section, as they have finished their first loop and are heading in the reverse direction now.  First, I spot Dean Karnazes.  We talked for a quick second at the start and he vaguely remembers me from Santa Barbara 100 (I worked, he ran).  This is a MUCH easier course (the 100, I mean) by the way.

Next, I see Ed Ettinghausen.  I’ve known him for at least a decade so when he passes me, he gives me the ol’ toot on the railroad whistle (I’m struggling carrying two water bottles – I wouldn’t be carrying a large wooden whistle with me – I can cheer people on just as well with my voicebox.).  Great to see him.

Still looking for Meg.  Feel like at this point, maybe she dropped out. (Later, I find she was throwing up and had a touch of the flu, so maybe it was for the best… but I tend to run better when I am a little sick because I manage my expectations better.)

Quite a bit later, I spot Alan coming up the road.  I’ll time it, but I’m probably a good hour behind him at this point.  If he maintains a good pace, I’ll probably finish 2-3 hours behind him (hope he’s easily entertained!).

The fire road pops out on Conzelman (the road we drove in on) and crosses it to a small trail paralleling the cars for about a mile.  My feet really hurt at this point.  I am almost considering quitting, BUT I know that I could slowly slog on for another 7 hours (Yes, that sounds crazy, but I have 33 hours to finish (or, 26 and change at this point), and while I am hoping not to take 33 hours, my need to finish is strong enough to keep on.).

I come through the start/finish line, grab some vittles and head back out.  There are still some people behind me coming in (some to finish the marathon (who ran an additional 1.2 mile loop at the start)).  I overhear one guy say that he is going to stop and not do another loop.  I halfheartedly yell at him to continue since we still have so much time.

When I get back to the trail section, I spot Eldrith Gosney.  We “ran” together at Miwok 2009 (and she creamed me).  She is in her 70s and an ultra legend.  We chat really briefly (neither of us need to stop for too long).  I suggest that we are the weird “E”s (Eldrith and Emmett) and I flash her the “E” sign with my fingers.

So now up the dreaded hill.  Since I am now doing every section in reverse, I can compare times (probably a bad idea).  The sections aren’t identical (since down is up and vice versa) and I am now between 5 and 25 miles more tired than when I did the section earlier.

I continue my zigzag up the hill and try to maintain an even pace.  Still shooting for 14:43 or at least sub-15:00 but my feet are really hurting.

At the top, back into the muddy forest, a little less foggy at this hour, and then back into the wind and technical trail.


Alan is almost off this section by the time we connect, meaning he is closer to 90 minutes ahead of me now.  Guess I won’t be catching up.  I don’t spot folks like Ed or Dean at this point because they have already turned off on the trail to Tennessee Valley.

When I get down to the paved section, that feels the absolute worst on my feet.  The best bet to get down the hill quickly is skipping or galloping.  Think about it, you cover a longer distance and it’s slightly less pounding.

When I get to the aid station, I have to sidle around a fire truck.  Someone had some issues and they called the paramedics.  By some miracle, I got through this section in 2:03:53 (only 4 minutes slower).  Now, although I still have the climb out, the distance between aid stations is only going to get shorter.  I got the two 7.1 mile stretches done.

The climb out is horrible and I am only gratified by the fact that there are still folks behind me (not many) and I am mostly around the same people I have seen all day (a gal here, and a couple there), though I am worried about the probability of some of them finishing… because they are entered in the 75 or 100 miler and while we are still on pace for a finish, the reality is that once it gets dark, the speed will drop considerably, the body will get even more tired, and the chances will fall precipitously.

Just after I turn out of the forested area and back onto the fire road that will take me back to Tennessee Valley, I spot someone not in a number, a volunteer that I think I saw at the last aid station.  She is looking for a particular runner – I think it is the wife of one of the couples I have been trading leads with all day.  The hard part is I don’t think we exchanged names, but I do remember some of the numbers.

Anyway, the second weirdest moment on an ultra for me (first was probably discussing hemorrhoids with Gordy Ainsleigh at Way Too Cool 50K) was the volunteer saying that she wanted to find the runner to give her medication for her UTI.  Seriously, too much information, there.

More zigzagging down the steep hill into Tennessee Valley.  No 4-5 minute slower on this section, no-sir-ee Bob.  13 minutes slower (basically 2 minutes PER mile slower).  I, too, am facing the dark dilemma.

At Tennessee Valley, I spot a few of my friends.  Martin Sengo is here, but heading out to finish his second loop and presumably start his third and final loop.  Good to see another tall-ish guy.  I also see my friend Errol “Rocket” Jones.  We never seem to meet when both of us are running – it’s always one or the other.  One of these days, I want to do his Quad Dipsea race, but I have to know my Thanksgiving plans several months in advance.

Less than a half marathon to go, but another dreaded climb out of Tennessee Valley and off to Muir Beach.  Because this section is so even (meaning an equal measure of up and down, I actually ran it only 30 seconds slower than the first time out (I wonder if that means that there was actually more downhill than up!).  Another two traverses of the full metal bridge.

Now the fun climb out, back along the ridge, downhill, and up the slippery wood stairs, back along the coast.  I am pretty much by myself most of the way here, with occasional reverse direction passes from 75 or 100 milers.

It is starting to get dusky and I am hoping to get back into Tennessee Valley before it gets dark, especially because I left my headlamp in my drop bag for a number of loops so I didn’t have to carry it with me.  It is almost dark when I slog into the aid station at a 24 minute per mile pace (lost 34 minutes off my first time through).

Before I take off, the one thing I am wondering is when the drop bags will be returned to the start.  Wondering if they will do the deal with some coming back earlier and the rest tomorrow afternoon, but they say that all of them are not coming back until tomorrow.

I make the decision that I will carry my bag back with me (so we don’t have to wait or come back tomorrow).  It’s a small duffel so I am able to strap it across my back in a way that isn’t uncomfortable (and as I mentioned earlier, there is some glow sticks, some Nuun, and some batteries inside – it probably weighs less than my car keys).

When I begin heading out on trail, they are only just putting out glow sticks and I am not even sure what direction to go (and I know this area) but someone orienteers me in the direction of the barn.  Think they dropped the ball and forgot to put markers out BEFORE dark, as they are putting them up now.

I know there’s a turn to head up the horse switchbacks, but I can’t see yellow ribbon in the dark unless I see the ribbon in the exact reflection point.  This results in me missing the turn and wandering back and forth until some 75/100 milers come in from the correct direction so I can head back out that way.

I’m feeling the nightmare from 6 years ago when I couldn’t find the blue ribbon (and no glow sticks), but am gratified at least that some people will be coming at me and it won’t be me by myself for the last 90 minutes to 2 hours.

For the most part, there aren’t any options for turns.  Just slow going in the dark (even with a headlamp, which only illuminates the 20 yards ahead of you).  Every so often, a runner or a large group of runners (probably from the Night Sweats Marathon which started a little while ago.  Mostly ladies who cheer me on. Nice!

There is a certain point when I have a vague idea where I am, even in the dark and you start to hear the voices of the finish line but you can’t just bound down the hill, you have to follow the course in correct manner (unless like 6 years ago, you can’t find any course and just guess your way down the hill).  Every turn is a hunt for the yellow ribbon and glow stick.  If it is a turn, it’s always hidden.  Probably they marked it in the daylight, not thinking of how it appears at night so it was a little hairy at times.

I did eventually get to the stone stairs (slippery and tough in the dark) and then a wooden railing from which I could see the lights of the finish line, and then finally through the gate back onto Conzelman Road for a short period before turning up through the parking lot and across the finishline in 15:10:14 (not under 15 hours or 14:43, but age-grade faster).

Alan finished under 12:00, which in the old days was a Western States Qualifier (11:53), so he has been making new friends for the past 3 hours (and freaking out his wife because the cell phone is in my car).

I get some food and unstrap my drop bag (throw my water bottles in there).  I pull out my glow sticks (which I never got around to) and hand them out to anyone hanging at the finish that is interested – which is a lot of people.  At this point I could probably hand out large pieces of coal and the people there would get excited (because we are off our feet).

A few of the people who finished near me, but are in the 75 or 100 are weighing their options.  A 75er can still finish, but does she want to go struggle around in the dark all night?  And someone in the 100 probably isn’t going to finish unless the sun suddenly rose in the next hour.  I think we convinced a few people to call it a day at 50 miles (which is a pretty pretty good accomplishment).

For me, it’s my 23rd completed 50 miler (can’t believe I’m coming upon 25 finishes) and for Alan, a very respectable first 50 miler on not the easiest of courses (I have three faster times and they were a lot flatter and less technical).

If I can figure out the feet thing (better padded shoes?  better feet?), I would be interested in returning and trying the 75 miler.  Don’t think I could do the 100.  I guess we will see what 2018 holds (and if Mrs. Sheppard can handle 3 kids while Alan runs 100 miles or if Alan can push 3 kids 100 trail miles in a stroller).



Skyline 50K – 2017

August 6, 2017

Today I am doing my 10th Skyline 50K.  Who knew that when I started doing LONG distance racing that I would have two 50Ks that I would reach double digits on?

As per my usual, I drive up early on Friday morning, even though Skyline is on Sunday.  This, at least, allows me to have a day of recovery from the drive before I do the race.  Mom and Dad are out of town, but I still have Marisa to hang with.

We spend part of Friday hiking the French and Stream trails (not last-minute training, I swear) and the evening watching South Pacific at Woodminster.  (36 years ago, I appeared in South Pacific as Jerome with Piedmont Light Opera Theatre.  Apparently, this production couldn’t get a male youth who could sing so they just had two girls (who can’t really sing anyway).)

On Saturday, I mostly just hung out, did some laundry, etc.

My new (ish) ultra buddy, Alan Sheppard, is going to run the race as well.  We had talked about driving up together, but he ended up doing a road trip with his family and are staying with his wife’s relatives in Alameda.  However, since we have an early start tomorrow, we have co.ordinated for Alan to be dropped off here.  He will spend the night (slumber party!) and then we will drive together to the race in the morning.  His family will probably meet him at the finish line (after they are awake).  I have no illusions that we will run together, since he seems to be much faster without heavy shoes weighing him down.

As with last year, a slightly different course than in the past.  I was a little disappointed last year when we took the suspension bridge route and bypassed it… twice.  It does look like (from the course map) that we are going to go through there again, and I hope that we go across the actual bridge at least once.

A nice drive in the morning and we get a pretty good parking space on the street and walk down and check in.  I see a lot of the usual suspects, like Meg Cheng (neither of us starting early) and just a number of random folks that I see here every year (or random people that recognize me from somewhere).

At the start, I am kinda hoping that they will acknowledge my 10th running, but at least when I was running my 100th marathon or ultra a few years back, they did give me Bib #100.

The opening section is around 2 miles of undulating paved road and I try to maintain a decent pace throughout this section (as I know I will slow off-road).  There is a line when I get to the suspension bridge (which means we’re going over it), a little bit of a bottleneck.  I don’t mind waiting because I get to run over the bouncy bridge.

On the other side, we begin the uphills (the new course from last year that I didn’t really like that much), and I just continue to maintain until the aid station at the top.  Happy with my 12:05 pace, but know that I can’t hope to maintain that pace.

The trail continues to follow the same route as last year, with single track traverses and crossing the road a few times.  I have a few jostling stumbles here (kicking my foot into a few big rocks in the trail) but I do not fall.

Having climbed the big hill, we don’t have the same downhill that used to go by Golf Links Road, nor the ascent on the other side, but sort of top accessing route to Bort Meadow, with some rough-ish single track, through a couple of cattle gates, and up a paved hill to the aid station.  Still maintaining a sub-15:00 pace (aka walking) with a good-sized hill to come.

This section has never changed in the course, basically 1.5 miles of steady uphill, about a mile of steep downhill, and a half mile of medium-flat single track through berry bushes over a minor stream to the road crossing and aid station at Big Bear.  I always take a look at my watch here to see how much time I lose on the way back, when the now-mile uphill is in the sun and I’m a dozen miles more tired.  I’ll see if the 40:29 holds up. (I did have one minor stop just before the aid station to re-adjust the inserts in my shoes, which always seem to slip in my shoes when there is significant downhill.)

Now for the run single-track section.  Lots of up-and-downs, watching my step (and a few stumbles on roots), and working our way up to another paved (in park) section.  Like last year, the course continues until the road ends at the Stream Trail and then follow the dirt trail up, up, up to Skyline Gate.  (I miss the old Ridge Trail route through the fog.)

It is here that I have a big drop off in pace (largely due to the uphill) to about 16:30 per mile… but to a certain extent, we are now on the downhill swing towards the finish.  But note that hills aren’t over and Skyline Gate isn’t the halfway point (but I am psychologically halfway).

We are doing a different route from this point, too.  We used to go about a half mile and then down the French Trail, but we go past this to Tres Sendas, which is a treacherous downhill.  There are a ton of roots and it is STEEP.  I end up not running down the hill, and I slow down even more when the guy just in front of me careens out of control and skids on his knees.  I do stop to help him up.  (I am a human redwood and can easily help people up, though I wonder if he could have just grabbed onto a redwood here.)  He is bloodied but not injured too badly (but if I fall, that may just be it).

We do work our way back to French Trail, which has a lot of climbing and descending.  I am in a long section by myself, wending my way around the hillside, at each moment thinking I am just about on the section that connects to the wider fire-road, but each bend seems to get to another uphill section.

Eventually, I do get to the fire-road, which, as I remember only goes for a half mile or so before veering off onto the single track that will take me back to the Big Bear aid station.  I figure that I won’t see another soul, but a few runners overtake me at a decent rate of speed (each overshot the turn-off – my God, it was so obvious!).  This is another section where you can hear the road but never seem to get any closer.  Despite being mostly downhill, my pace is a sluggish 18:42 per mile.  At least I have some pace to spare to make the 8:30 time limit (and I am now over halfway – 20.2 miles).

Now time to do the big hill in reverse (in the sun) with the hope that I will not lose too much time from the 40 minutes on the way out.  En route to the hill, a number of people pass me, but I pass a few of them back with a steady walking pace up the hill.  I spot a fairly tall lady up ahead of me, but she is doing the same thing I am – using her long legs to quickly walk/run up the hill.  I get back to Bort Meadow in 45:43 (so only a small loss of time).

Now to the revised route back… a bit similar the route I ran in 2002 and 2003, mostly fire roads and lots of long climbs and short descents.  Don’t know if I miss the Honker Bay route, though.  That was always endless (much like the last section I was on).

Midway through this section, I catch up to the tall lady.  She hasn’t really got running clothes on and she isn’t carrying a water bottle… but she does have a Dixie cup that she is sipping from.  She is pretty desperate for water, and I pour her a few cupfuls to tide her over to the next aid station.  (I don’t like to part with my own water, but I always carry two water bottles, and one is a buffer against really struggling, so I rarely dig into the second bottle… I can spare the water.

We chat for a little bit.  This is her first ultra and didn’t really know what to expect (and at the next aid station, one of the volunteers loans her a water bottle to get her through the last section).  She IS going to make it, after all.

Another struggle section for me, with around 18:00/mile, but it really is downhill to the finish and one more span of the suspension bridge.  From this top aid station, there is a significant downhill (almost too steep to run) working down to the bridge… and of course, once I am over the bridge, it is less than 2 miles to the finish.

My knee is bugging me and if I run, I cramp.  Yuck.  So I am basically speed walking on the flats and downhills and regular walking on the uphills.  The good news is that I have over an hour to finish the race, and the bad news is that I am already slower than my time from last year (with 3.6 miles to go).


I do have a nice shuffle finish and am greeted by Alan and family.  7:53:13, about 45 minutes slower than last year (but I am also a year older).  I will probably be back again for #11.

Bagel 10K – 2017

May 14, 2017

It’s Mother’s Day in Dallas, so of course, we are doing a Mother’s Day Race.  Think Riva ran this before, and it could be on the small side in terms of competitors.

I am just over a week past completing Wild Wild West 50K, so I don’t have any great expectations, but feel Dad has a great chance to place in the 5K and Riva will most certainly get a top 3 finish in F40 or Masters.

The course is a teensy bit hilly and it is muggy and hot out.  10K is going to be two loops, so I expect to do OK in the first half and not as good in the second half (probably walk a bit).  I have on my AREC shirt which doesn’t seem to fit very well.

We start out immediately downhill (and this is also the section of the race where you avoid kids going out too fast), so my first mile is 7:30, and then it’s a gentle flat and climb through a neighborhood, mostly shaded and I slow to 8:26.  The last 1.1 is a descent along a bike path, a small climb to the street we started on, and then an out-and-back section to make up the discrepancy between the 5K and 10K and back through the start.  8:28 on this section (25:10 for the first 5K+).

On the second half, I do run the downhill part, and jog/walk the uphill – 8:47.  The neighborhood and uphill slows me to 10:25, and then I try and press the last section.

I pass Myrrh and Dad in the middle of this section, along with a number of walkers in the 5K.  Mom and Riv are waiting for me at the finish line when I come though in 53:13 (not too bad in this heat).  They don’t have my time, though, and it gets busted up to 53:56 somehow.  I missed out of placing in my division (F40-49) by about a minute (but it would have been closer if they had my real time).  (When I see the chintzy awards, well, it’s not a big deal to miss out).

Riva runs 46:53 (below average for her, but she may be injured) and that it is good enough for 5th overall and the female winner of the race.

Myrrh and Dad come in around 57 minutes.  Dad would have been first place in the M80, but they decided to lump them in with the M70-79, too and he is only 5th.  (70+ is sometimes OK, but not when you have a separate race for 90 year olds!)

Afterwards, we get a nice bagel and cream cheese, and a truckload of Kind bars (two Kinds of Kind bars).

When I take off my AREC shirt, I realize I have been wearing a Women’s XL. No wonder it fit so badly.

Way Too Cool 50K – 2017

March 4, 2017

Drove up to Oakland yesterday and hung with my parents and sister, including going out (sort of for my birthday) to Bay Fung Tong with them.  Maybe the noodle and rice dishes serve as carbo-loading.

This morning, I have an early drive up to Cool.  I have my new car (one year old on Tuesday) instead of the rental and the weather is a bit better (though it did rain the past couple of days and I have heard that there is damage to the course and there may be detours).

I get an earlier start than last year, when I was the 10th to last car to park and had to walk 3/4 of a mile to the start (and then back afterwards).  There is the usual chaos in the parking where people can’t listen to directions.  (They have you drive the entire length of the paved road, turn around at the end and then park facing the exit direction.  There is always someone who tries a three-point turn and holds up the whole situation, because they know better.)  But anyway, I am probably less than a quarter-mile from the start line, so that makes the day a little less stressful.

At the start, I am looking for people I might recognize.  I see a few GVH folks, including Martin Sengo.  I also see Tsehay Villeza from AREC.  Last year, she got pulled from the race even though she was moving well enough to finish under the time limit (so they got her in again).  Also from AREC (though local to the Sacramento area) is Anthony Fagundes.  He is attempting his first 50K, but he has had good success with shorter trail races (the overall winner of all Xterra races he’s run this season).  I hang out a bit with his parents who have driven up to watch him run.

Today my goal is just to finish (I am not really worried about the time limit, but my fitness is not the same as it was last year.).  The importance of finishing is to reach my goal of 14 Way Too Cool finishes, on this the 28th year of competitions (I will have run half of all races.)

The fast pack take off at 8:00am and then the slower field goes off at 8:10am.  I do put myself in the front of this group so that I can get away on the trail before the crowds behind me make me nervous.  (I can get over the roots and rocks better if someone isn’t breathing down my neck.)

I make better time on the road portion and force myself to run the little uphills, though once I get to the trail, I immediately feel the need to walk and get passed by about 20 people before I reach the steeper downhill part.

The trail seems more technical than last year.  I am guessing this is due to heavier rains which expose rocks and roots more readily.  The water crossings don’t seem any more heinous, though, but there is also more standing water on the trail than the past few years.

The last mile before completing the 8-mile loop is super-wet.  It is almost all puddles and super slippery (but I do not fall).  I am happy to finish this section in 95 minutes (11:52/mile pace).

From the Start/Finish at the Cool Firehouse, we now parallel Highway 49 for a bit (this will also be the same stretch for the finish) and then work our way over to the steep, muddy, wet downhill to the crossing before the aid station on the other side of Highway 49.  Lots of people pass me here because I am nervous about falling and do not have supreme confidence on technical downhill trails.

This section is only a 5K and I am not guzzling water, but I do remember an aid station a little past the highway crossing, but… hmm…, there doesn’t seem to be an aid station here.  A port-a-potty, yes, but that generally doesn’t offer the same treats as an aid station.  Hopefully, they have not eliminated too many aid stations because it’s tough to balance water consumption if you have no idea how far you are going.  I do click off a lap on my watch so I can compare with previous years or get an idea on my (mostly) downhill pace (13:07/mile).

After going through the non-aid station, the wide fire-road parallels the American River and is fairly flat and well-graded (with a rash of puddles, of course).  I am alternating between light jogging and brisk walking for most of this section.  It’s less about being tired and more about the upcoming hills that I want to be prepared for.

As we get to the end of the fire-road section and into the more single-track route along the river, it is clear that the trail is pretty much completely washed out.  I can envision what the trail WAS, but now there is no real trail here and we wander out into the riverbed a bit and just sort of stumble through uneven sand and boulders until a semblance of a trail reappears.

A few more tough rolling hills and the next aid station materializes.  The distance was almost as much as the 8 miles on the opening loop but it seems far worse as I am 8 miles less fresh.  I guess my pace based upon what the course map says, though a 10:27/mile pace seems to have been unrealistic at this point (and my GPS says something else).

According to my pace sheet, the next aid station is in 1.5 miles, but again, there is nothing there, so another split that is a bit useless (only for comparing to last year).  The location of the aid stations also don’t exactly match up with the web page, either…

Until I get to ALT (Auburn Lake Trail) at the river crossing.  Finally, what I have and what the website has, and what my GPS states all match up.  Here’s to hoping that the rest of the aid stations are not 6 or 7 miles apart!  These first 21 miles have taken me 4:43 (or 13:24/mile).  This would put me on pace for 6:40, which would be comparable to last year, but I don’t think I am going to maintain that pace on the last few sections, especially not Goat Hill.

The trail crosses the water and then winds around the hillside forever.  In previous years, I count the number of water crossings (anything that has running water and isn’t a puddle).  In a “dry” year, there are about 50 water crossings and today, there are over 80.  Most I can easily step over (though I am cautious so that I don’t slip, fall, and break my elbow).

The key to the end of this trail is a wooden bridge water crossing that takes us to the fire-road.  There is a bit of steep uphill here before turning onto the steeper single-track up to Goat Hill.

But that was BEFORE the trail got washed out.  I can see in the distance that there is a bunch of trees and branches blocking the trail and a turn-off earlier than usual heading up the hill.  This trail is very steep (much like the old Goat Hill trail) and I am really struggling to get up the hill and getting some calf cramps which are not helping.

Alas, absolute torture awaits.  Instead of traversing the hillside and continuing up to Goat Hill Aid Station, we basically are hooking around the obstruction in the most difficult manner possible, and then going back onto the fire-road, DOWN to the fire-road, and THEN going up the Goat Hill trail.  In essence, we are climbing the horrible hill TWICE!  My pace slows to a crawl, both because of cramping and being more out of shape.

The Burma-Shave style signs don’t help my mood.  It would have been nice to warn about this change or come up with something more reasonable.  I don’t think there was any reason to carve out a steep trail.  I would as soon climb over the obstruction than climb that hill twice.

The top of the hill takes me to 26 miles in 6:22 (which is slower than I ran WTC in 2002 and I still have 5 miles to go).  Unless I can cover the last 5 miles in 25 minutes (ha!), I will have a slower time than last year.

From Goat Hill, we now proceed to the (upper) Highway 49 crossing.  This is mostly rolling hills with a net downhill, but VERY wet and several sections that are completely puddles.  On the flatter sections, I am reduced to lots of walking and I seem to go back and forth with an older gentleman (70, I think he said) who is going for his 9th finish (and of course, there are folks going for their 28th finishes).  When I cannot run, he takes off on me and I figure I will not see him again until after I finish.

I get pretty excited once I get to the highway crossing because I know I can muddle through a mile-and-a-half to the finish in under 1 hour, 15 minutes (the 8:30 time limit).  After crossing the road, I don’t stop at the aid station because the end is so close and I would rather have the time to power up the muddy waterfalls that is the trail back up to the trail paralleling Highway 49.

I walk/run for a bit with a gal who finishing her first 50K (doing great, I might add) and then shuffle/jog past a number of slowing competitors and I catch back up to my 70 year-old friend on the last stretch.  We come across the finish together (though he may have started an hour early) and I proclaim that between us we have 23 Way Too Cool finishes!

Tsehay gets her finish (yay!) – knew she could do it.  Anthony beats me by almost 4 hours (he is also 20 years younger), coming in 7th overall, but not placing in his age group! My time is 7:38:26, almost an hour slower than last year.  I’ll attribute it to my lack of running this winter and the incessant rain preventing me from getting out on the trails.

I hope to be back out at Cool next year, and I really hope that they are able to repair some of my favorite trails and eliminate the run-arounds.  I hope they also continue to be sponsored by Sufferfest beer, so I can bring a can home and split with my dad (like I have the past two years).

Piedmont Turkey Trot 5K – 2016

November 24, 2016

Happy Thanksgiving!

This year, I’m back in my hometown of Piedmont.  (Last year we were in Hong Kong.)

I seem to remember from years past that we would park in the lot by the park, but we end up parking about 5 blocks away near the terminus of Highland Avenue.

Riva is hurting a little so she says that there is a possibility that I will finish ahead of her.  (Yeah, like that will happen.)

My goal at this race is to try not to walk the hills (though it is a big temptation because there are so many).

I did situate myself at the front so that I wouldn’t get caught up in the slow crowd, and maybe the surge will take me along to the downhill at the far end of Highland and give me the impetus to climb up Wildwood (where I always tend to walk).  Mile 1 – 7:36.  (I am running UP Wildwood.)

From Mile 1 to Mile 2, there are a number of hills and I couldn’t quite not walk all of them.  I gave myself permission to walk up St. James to Hampton, and to walk a portion of the Seaview incline, but I still managed 9:22 (which is really good for walking hills).

Mile 3 to the end is mostly downhill (with a little dipsy-doodle towards the end) so I pushed the best I could, managing a 7:22 final mile, with a 47 second last tenth (about 7:50/mile).

My 24:59 was almost a minute ahead of Riva’s time.  (She still did well considering that she wasn’t anywhere near 100%.)

Dad was 2nd in his age group (out of 5 80 year-olds) but the rest of us didn’t factor into the results at all.  I was 238th overall and 29th in my age group, but consider that there were over 2,600 runners, so I’m good with the top 10%.

Skyline 50K – 2016

August 7, 2016

The race is back to Sunday again.  I liked last year when the race was on Saturday.  On the one hand, I had to run the day after I drove up, but conversely, I had a day to recover and hang out with my family on the way back.

Then again, Mom and Dad aren’t around this weekend because of Dad’s HS reunion this weekend in Southern California.  I suspect that we are passing each other in Central California.  I did, however, get to have a nice BFT dinner with my sister Marisa and our friend Shauna and watched some of the opening ceremonies of the Olympics (though not exactly conducive to getting a good night’s sleep before a long race).

The course this year is a bit different, having to do with some construction going on around the dam area (dam it), so we will start out in the same direction as at the Dick Collins Firetrails 50M and work our way over to Bort Meadow from a different direction.  On the map, you cannot really tell how different it will be or if it will be tougher, but if we are heading in the direction that the original Skyline Course used to end, there are some dramatic uphills that I don’t necessarily want to tackle.

For the past few years, starting with Skyline 50K 2013, I create a laminated pace sheet to carry with me and on the back side, I do some kind of dedication (starting with an inspiration to my HS friend, Brian Kelly, who unfortunately died at 42 the day before the race).  Last year, Skyline was my 100th marathon or ultra (27 mararathons, 73 ultras) so I dedicated it to the 10 people who most influenced me getting into running.

Today, I am at a different milestone – my 80th ultramarathon, so I have decided to dedicate it to eight people I met while running ultras that made a difference in my life.  (See attached PDF for the pictures.)skylinepace16

First is Ken Michal.  I met him as we passed in the dark during the Santa Barbara 100M/100K.  Later, I learned he had spent 8 hours in a port-a-pottie because the aid station blew off the mountain and it was the warmest spot available.  We have since met at many other events, and he is a pretty amazing (All Day!) athlete.

Next is Amy Dodson, who I first met at American River 50M in 2010.  She had a lung and leg removed as a teenager, so she is hard to miss.  I thought she was another one-legged athlete, Amy Palmeiro-Winters, who had run the North Face Challenge a year prior, and when I asked her if her name was Amy, who knew that there was more than one Amy with a prosthetic leg running an ultra?  We ran a few miles together, but our real great experience was at Miwok the following year when we ran together for several hours.  I received the “brunt” of good wishes as fellow competitors cheered us (her mostly) on.

Next, a pair together, Dave McCaghren and Jerry Hollingsworth, who I met perchance at the Sunmart 50M pre-race dinner.  Pretty much I sat down at a lonely table because I didn’t really know anyone from the Texas location of the race.  We ended up on the same race shuttle to, and from the race, had cocktails at the hotel post-race, and ended up breakfasting the next morning, too.  A few years later, I stayed with Jerry and a friend the night before my first (and so far, only) 100 miler, the Rocky Raccoon.

At the Santa Barbara 100M (attempt #2 where the race didn’t actually get cancelled), I got lost and then fell apart by Mile 29 (though more than 30 miles for me at that point).  When I got back to the finish (to then help out and cheer people in), I met a guy from Long Beach (that I never knew before) who had some ultra experience (including Barkley).  I haven’t (yet) given into some of his insanity, but he (and dog Lacey) were invaluable in pacing me at Twin Peaks 50M last year (my first and only pacer to date).

A few years ago at Skyline, I ran a few miles with another early starter.  She was no slow runner, just starting early because her friend was.  We are not really alike and follow different tracks in life, but I have always enjoying running and talking with her (and reading about her various trail and ultra adventures).  Meg Deverin Cheng and I met up again at the start (and finish) line today.

Two years ago, at the High Desert 50K in Ridgecrest, I ran cumulatively a few hours with Darrell Price, ten years my junior and local to Ridgecrest (and occasionally works in Long Beach, too).  Both of us are big guys (I’m taller, naturally.) so we had that to commiserate about.  Last year, I stayed with him at his house less than a mile from the Start Line, and hope to do so again this year.

Finally, Laurin Miertschin, who I met at Twin Peaks 50M my first year.  Both of us ended up doing the 50K drop down.  She has also ventured out on my hash events, and convinced me to run a number of tough local races.  I hope she gets back out there soon since she seems to be injured a lot these days.

Besides, my eight ultrabuddies motivating me to do well, I did a countdown of my 8th most favorite ultramarathons and the 8th hardest ones.  (If you are on FB, you can revisit my posts from July 29 to August 6th.)

Something different that I am doing today is wearing my GPS watch to both see where I am on the course and also, it shows me my best pace on each section.  I always have a vague idea of where I am on the course, but I also enjoy knowing EXACTLY where I am at.

The race starts out on time and they recognize the folks who have done 10+ Skylines.  This year is my 9th.  Hoping for some special giveaway next year.

As mentioned above, the course is different and we are heading towards the suspension bridge.  I wonder if it will be crowded when we get there as for Dick Collins I had to wait 2-3 minutes to cross, so I hung back a bit… but when I get there, we go, not over the bridge, but around it.  That’s kind of disappointing.  I hope to cross it en route to the finish, just because I feel like that makes the whole race for me.

After the bridge, we go to the right (in the final miles, we come from the left) and begin heading up a fairly steep road.  I have to walk this.  At the first aid station (a mere 5K from the start), I’ve done 38:37, so a pretty slow start.  GPS says that my fastest pace was 6:30 (probably a short downhill stretch).

The course continues paralleling a paved road, and crossing it a couple times.  After about 3 miles, the terrain becomes familiar and I know I am on the path to Bort Meadows.  I don’t like the trail leading there, because it is single-track and rutted, which is not great to run on.  At least it is still overcast.  Four miles more, 50-odd minutes, a much better average pace.  If I want to break 7 hours, I will need to get a better pace in soon.

From Bort to Big Bear (basically the Fish Ranch Road crossing) is around 3 miles, a mile-and-a-half of gentle uphill and a mile-and-a-half of decently steep downhill.  I am always reminded that we have to do this in reverse.  Another 38 minutes here (but that does include stopping just before the aid station to put my inserts facing forward again (they slip because my shoes don’t fit perfectly)).

Once I cross Fish Ranch Road, it’s a bunch of single-track, uphill, mostly familiar trail, but then we do take a slightly different route to get up to Skyline Gate, a more circuitous route.  It just makes the long uphill suck more.  Four more miles, 63 minutes.  It’s looking less likely that I can break 7 hours.  Yes, my total time is 3:11 and I am just about halfway there, but I know there are some sections ahead where I will definitely lose more time.

Marisa and Shauna meet me at Skyline Gate and I convince them to at least walk with me to the French Trail turn-off.  It’s nice having some familiar company.

French Trail is a steep downhill and there were a bunch of people hiking on it.  This is my best chance to make up a little bit of time, before I lose a bunch of time later (as my feet hurt more and more as the event goes on – last year, I wore the better cushioned Hokas, this year, the shoes aren’t as soft).

Unfortunately, it isn’t ALL downhill, and on the really steep uphill, I got a bit gassed out and then my feet started to hurt more than usual.  (Might be a recurrence of my plantar fasciitis.)  According to the GPS, 5.7 miles in 100 minutes (so not really picking up any time).

Now, I have the 3 mile segment, in reverse, with the steep uphill and the gentle downhill.  I am struggling more than usual on the uphill portion.  Typically, my times in either direction are comparable (within 5 minutes of each other), but I was 10 minutes off in the reverse direction.  Even on the downhill, I don’t feel like running.

From Bort Meadows, I now have over 5 miles to Honker Bay, and if I remember this section correctly, it seems like a whole lot more than 5 miles.  You essentially parallel some of the earlier trail and then there are a number of long switchbacks uphill and then a slight drop, and then more and more uphill.  I know that when I get to the treeline, well, I’m not getting any closer.  Feels closer, but never is exactly.

I am watching my GPS overall time, and at this point, I am just hoping to get to Honker Bay in under 7 hours… but officially, 7:00:09.

Now there is about 2.3 miles to the finish, and hopefully I get to have the soothing bounce of the suspension bridge to carry me through to the end.  Now I am in the sun of the day and my feet are really sore.  I am just trying to get through the last bit.  (I mean, I WILL, but it is a struggle.)

When I get to the bridge, it is disappointing that we are going around it again; I will talk to the race director.  We should be going across it at least once… that’s the best part that I look forward to.

Once across the bridge, it is paved to the finish.  I try and walk briskly on the uphills and flats and shuffle/soar on the downhill sections.  I am able to pass a few stragglers in this part, and get to the finish in 7:46:38.  Definitely one of my slowest times, though, given that it was a different course, it is a personal best on this particular course!

I can’t hang out very long at the finish line as I need to drive back to Southern California afterwards (stopping first to shower and pack up at my folks’).

Looking forward to at least 20 more ultras and to reach 100!





Fort Worth Resolution 5K – 2016

January 1, 2016

My stay in Dallas was an unusual one.  For the past few years (except in December 2011 when I went on a Christmas cruise), I have spent Christmas in Dallas and participated in runs with Carrollton Running Club, Plano Pacers, and done the New Year’s Day White Rock Lake run.

This year, after taking a special trip with my entire extended family to Hong Kong for Thanksgiving, we spent Christmas in the Bay Area.  However, I did end up going to Dallas after all, two days after Christmas to spend a week with my sister and (sort of) babysitting my nephews while my sister worked and they were out of school.

We were to have a late flight out of San Francisco on the 27th, so I would be able to run the Lake Merritt Joggers & Striders 15K in the morning (I even pre-registered for it – $5.).  Unfortunately, there was torrential rain and thunderstorms in Dallas and our flight out of SFO got cancelled.  Because my sister has traveled pretty extensively on AA, we were able to rebook onto another flight (that hadn’t yet been cancelled) earlier in the day, albeit out of San Jose Airport and at 10am, making it impossible for me to do my race.  (The other downside was that I was to be upgraded to business class, but now I was back in coach.  Alas.)

Marisa drove us down to the airport and just before we boarded the plane, they announced that the flight was  over-heavy and would anyone be amenable to giving up their seats.? Although Riva really needed to get back before 8am Monday morning, she negotiated that both of us would give up our seats (and take a slightly later flight), plus each of us would get a voucher for $600, because Riva was giving up a business class seat.

It was a moot point, because the weight issue resolved and we were able to get on the plane.  Also, had we ended up taking that later flight, well, it ended up getting cancelled as well.

As we got closer to Dallas, they announced that DFW and DAL (Love Field) were closed due to storms, and we were being re-routed to Houston-Hobby.  In all probability, it looked like we would have to rent a car and drive the 4 hours to Dallas to make it back in time, but after a couple of hours on the plane in a heavy rain storm, DFW opened for a small window and we were able to get into Dallas.

Because of the timing of the visit, I had missed the Plano and Carrollton runs (which are usually the fourth weekend of the month) – I arrived Sunday night, but I hoped to do the White Rock New Year’s Day Race, which strangely enough, I could not find any information about.  After several years of having this fun 10am New Year’s Day race (with mimosas, beer, and spiked egg nog post race, plus champagne flutes as prizes), it was defunct.

I looked around and found a Resolution Run in Fort Worth (about a 45-minute drive).  It was a 5K, it was timed, and had a 10am start, so I wouldn’t have to get up super early (kind of like leaving at 7am for an 8am race), and there wasn’t too much traffic at that hour on New Year’s Day.

The race was in Trinity Park, which was part of the Fort Worth Cowtown Marathon course, except that the year I ran it, the Trinity River overflowed and we were routed an extra half mile to get around the flooding, so it is kind of cool that I get to run in an area that I should have run in nearly 11 years ago.

The registration is pretty  easy-going and there are not a lot of people in line (maybe bodes well for placing in the race, though there is no Clydesdale category for me to dominate).  I also got a decent parking spot, since I arrived with 30-plus minutes to spare.

By the way, it is January in Texas, which should be read as COLD!!  I have two shirts on plus gloves, plus my Buff, and I am still cold.

The race is an out-and-back past the start, then further around the park, under a railway trestle and then back around part of the original course again.  I try to run in a controlled manner.

My first mile is in 7:26, and I get myself out of the crowd (especially because we are mostly on a pedestrian path and there are 200+ runners here).  I catch up and pass my Carrollton Runners friend Kim Andres.  I always see her and chat up briefly.  She and Riva have run with the same groups in the distant past, I think.

I slow down a little on the second mile, trying to get myself into a comfortable pace and stay ahead of whomever I think might be in my age group.  (I am a terrible gauge of this, because it seems to be the salt-and-pepper guys, but heck, if I can stay ahead of those who I think are in my age group (aka the young guns), then I may place in my own group.)  My second mile is 7:45, and I pass Frances McKissick, someone who I have seen in a few Dallas races in the past.

The last mile takes me under the railway trestle which is probably less than an inch taller than me.  I duck under the entire thing just to be safe.  There is also a bit of a hill leading up to the final 1/4 mile, and I am struggling trying to catch up to some kids and stay ahead of Frances.  I manage the final mile (and 0.1) in 7:44 (so probably around 7:00 even) and finish in 23:10.

Afterwards, I head over to the covered picnic area to get some post-run snacks and champagne.  They have fruit, and some crackers and Frito-Lay chip bags.  There is one lady over there pouring champagne (and sparkling cider, Cold Duck, and Rose).  She can hardly get glasses poured before people snatch them up, and I am in the first quarter of finishers, so can imagine how bad it will get as the crowds come in.

I park myself behind her and start opening bottles.  This involves scraping off the foil cover, pulling off the metal band, and then popping the cork.  It’s pretty much impossible to do with gloves on, but I continue so that she can just pour, and I go until all of the bottles are opened and poured (at least 25 bottles).

This volunteer turns out to also be one of the award presenters, so when I pick up my award for 2nd place in my age group (out of 15, it wasn’t that small), she also announces to the crowd that I pretty much opened all of the bottles for them after I ran my race.  Starting out the New Year on a pseudo-good deed (and running a good time).  I did also get a glass of champagne (and try out a sip of the other “flavors”).

In the afternoon, I went to the Pretty in Pink DFWH3 event – I wore yellow and had a fun run around Dallas with a bunch of hashers dressed in pink, so I got to start my year out with nearly 8 miles of runs.

I was sad to miss the White Rock run, especially because it is so much closer to my folks and sister’s houses, but this was a nice replacement.