Sunday, August 9, 2015

Angeles Crest 100: 2015

Hike the long climbs hard, run easy on the flats and downs. That was my strategy heading into my third Angeles Crest 100.  I knew I could hike hard and fast uphill all day, thanks to the time spent on my fourth John Muir Trail backpacking trip at the end of June.  Running and hiking in the San Juan's of Colorado for 9 days and pacing my friend, Chris Price, at Hardrock 100 didn’t hurt either.  Indeed, it helped establish my confidence heading into the 29th edition (my 3rd) of this historic local race.
After sleepwalking my way to a 29:45 (my slowest time) finish at the 2014 AC100, the race stomped whatever confidence was left to be able to run these races well.  I could come up with a million excuses but the fact was I’ve always experienced big lows that have taken forever to get out of.  My belief was that it was simply not taking and digesting enough calories, so I went back to my tried and true method of GU gels and salt pills.  Thanks to the book “Waterlogged” by Tim Noakes I had stopped taking salt for the past few one-hundred mile races and experienced lows I was barely able to recover from.  So I decided to go forget what I read and go back to what had worked in the past. Science schmience.

Race day arrived.  The past few days in Wrightwood were relaxing.  I was taking my time preparing for the race and enjoying the quiet moments.  I made sure to sleep well, eat well, and be mentally prepared over the last couple of weeks.  I was hoping it would pay off.  My goal had always been to be able to break 24 hours and this year was no different.  The only thing that was different was that I was coming into the race healthy, mentally and physically the best I’ve come into it, and WANTING to race.  
Wrightwood: The start (with an Uncle Hal photobomb!)

Wrightwood to Islip Saddle (miles 0-25):
The customary “Get out of here!” was yelled at 5am and we all started to make our way up through Wrightwood before hitting the Acorn Trail.  The very last house passed before the trail was Dom and Katie’s cabin.  For the last 3 weekends (and, coincidentally, where I am typing this up) and in previous months they have generously opened their doors and we’ve taken advantage of being able to jump out on the trails right from their doorstep.  

Grossman's Corner

I stuck with my strategy of hiking uphill comfortably hard and conserving the running legs for later.  I was moving well and putting distance on people who were running and hiking.  I got to the top of Acorn in :53.  I cruised the rest of the way to Inspiration Point letting the people who were keen on the downhill pass me and I arrived at the raucous aid station that is Inspiration in 1:53.  Quickly but calmly refilling my water at the aid station I walked to the far end and started my hike out to Vincent Gap.  I was really happy not to be in a line of runners anymore and I quickly settled into my own groove with some quiet time.  I arrived at Vincent Gap (mile 13) happy to see Dave Daley’s crew as they were helping me out until I met Marshall at Islip Saddle, mile 25.  I hiked the entire climb up Mt. Baden-Powell in 1:03-04, catching folks, and staying within myself.  After the customary photos by photographer Larry Gassan at the highest point on the course, I cruised all the way to Islip, again letting a couple runners go by me on the way down.  I usually run the downhills well so letting a couple people by was not easy.  I arrived at Islip to meet my cowboy-hat wearing crew in Marshall.  We exchanged a quick hug, got my necessaries and I was off.  I felt calm and good.  5:12
Up Mt. Baden-Powell
Photo: Paksit Photos

Islip Saddle to Chilao (miles 25-53):

I have always felt terrible arriving into Eagles Roost (mile 30) but this year was going to be different, I tried to convince myself.  I again hiked the climb up Mt. Williamson comfortably hard and cruised into Eagle’s Roost in :55, my fastest split ever.  The best part was that I was feeling really good.  I was very excited on the inside but I showed no external emotion when I arrived at the aid station.  This road section which I have loathed in the past was just fine.  I let a couple eager beavers by but I soon would regain position on the trails and the climbs through Cooper Canyon.  I felt great, the music and caffeine were working, and I hiked up to Cloudburst (mile 38) happy.  Feeling this good this far into the race was unchartered territory for me and as soon as I let myself think it was going to be a good day, I quickly thought about ultrarunning rules number 2 & 3.  You’ll have to ask legendary AC runner, Fenton Cross, for those golden nuggets.  The next section to Three Points has always been terrible to me and this time I did a decent job of getting there although I started to feel a little worked.  The next hot and exposed section to Chilao was the start of my downswing.  I arrived in Chilao faster than I ever have but I was starting to crack.  I plopped in a chair.  My first sit down of the day. 5:57
Chilao: Dave Daley in foreground with myself being tended to in background.
Photo: Dominic Grossman

Chilao to Chantry (miles 53-75):
I consider the next section to be the easiest “25” of the course.  After 6 minutes at the aid station, I picked up my first pacer, Marshall, and headed out.  I was slow.  Very slow.  I knew it was a calorie issue and I had a brief 2 min window where I felt like I was coming back but it was short-lived.  I arrived at Shortcut (mile 60) tired.  I spent 12 minutes there resting and trying to bounce back.  I rested my eyes and just sat.  I was starting to worry that all the good work I had done in the beginning was being wasted.  This is where I notoriously fell apart last year and I was wondering if it could happen again.  The long fireroad descent into Westfork is something to take advantage of.  The grade is perfect, the sun is starting to go down (although it’s still hot), and you’re starting to really drop in elevation.  It didn’t matter for me however, I was barely making it down.  The climb up Newcomb was also slow and laborious.  I started to feel sorry for myself and doubt about my ability to perform in 100s reared it’s head. “Marshall, I suck at 100’s.” “I’m sorry for being this slow.” “I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”  I’ve started to learn more and more that when I get like this there’s usually only one reason: sugar.  I don’t have enough of it and it’s not getting to my brain.  Physically I felt great, apart from some left tib anterior tendinitis that was starting to bother me.  The trick though is to convince the mind to take fuel in while it’s screaming “Hell no! Get that crap away from me!”.  It’s a lesson I’ve learned the hard way.  I begrudgingly ate a PowerBar and somehow made it to Newcomb at the tail end of daylight.  I sat there for 11 minutes.  We finally got out and I gingerly made my down to Chantry.  I usually love running this section but I was still in a funk and was barely plodding 16 minute miles on the rutted out trail and the entire field seemed to be passing me by.  On the final ¾ mile climb up the pavement to Chantry I finally started to get some life back.  On the downside, my left shin was starting to concern me as it was quite painful with every foot movement.  

Chantry to Loma Alta Park (miles 75-101.5):

I was coherent.  That was a good start.  I was picking up Jimmy Dean Freeman, who I consider one of the best consistent closers on this course.  That’s why I asked for his services one day after finishing AC in 2014.  I gave Marshall a well-deserved hug and thanked him for staying so positive out there while I wasn’t at my best.  I left Chantry at 10:26pm and I started to doubt I could make it to the end in under 24.  I was definitely feeling better but was down on myself.  Jimmy laid out the plan and I’ll quote him:
“Mike, I think we can do this.  You need to run some of the inclines, hike the shit out of the steep stuff, and maintain a consistent pace on the downs.  We need to get a lot of calories in you, not waste any time at the aid stations, and focus on catching and passing people to help pull us forward.  I believe we need to average 19min/mile on the climbs and 11min/mile on the descents and 2-3 min or less at aid stations.”
It was set and I started to feel better as we kept moving.  The 2 mile section from Chantry to the Upper Winter climb, where I had done multiple repeats the prior year (contemplating dropping), was where I started to run with JDFs encouragement.  
Me: “My shin is really hurting and it’s really affecting my running.”  
JDF: ”I don’t care.  You can turn this into a negative thing or you can accept it and keep going.”  Although the pain was sharp and really wearing on me psychologically,  I knew it wasn’t more than tendinitis and it wasn’t going to kill me.  So I accepted the pain for what it was and started not caring although present at every moment.  “Food, two gulps of Coke, wash it down with water.” That became the nightly mantra. I tackled the steep climb with almost the same vigor as I had early in the race and maybe all the early conservative running started to pay off. I cruised down the Mt. Wilson Toll Road, really wanting to finally open up my stride, but sharp spasms from the tib anterior kept me in check and I kept the stride short but consistent.  I had passed 5 people on this section and truly started to believe that sub-24 could be mine if I ran like this until the end.  I suddenly became hyper-focused, pain became secondary, and there was no way I was going to waste this opportunity.  I was out of Idlehour Aid Station in 4 min and worked my way down into the vortex that is Idlehour Canyon.  The climb up to Sam Merrill was a strong hike intermixed with running.  I got to the aid just as a runner was leaving.  10 miles left.  My watch had died at the last aid station and I was asking JDF for time updates. From what he was telling me we were going to be cutting it really close.  I didn’t panic but I was running with my eyes wide open.  Upper Sam Merrill was a trail I’ve known well over the past couple months and was aware how technical it was, especially on tired legs.  I passed that runner and ran it as well as I could under the circumstances.  I ran up the Mt. Lowe Railway trail and all the way into Millard keeping my eyes peeled for headlamps.  We were approaching Millard and I asked for the time again.  I don’t remember what he told me but I knew there was no way I was stopping at the aid station.  After taking my last gulps of Coke at the base of the last climb I ran the whole thing hard.  I wanted to be under 24 so bad and I wanted to catch whoever was in front of me.  Down El Prieto, I ran the best I could from Millard to the Finish (:52).  As we hit the final road stretch through Alta Dena I desperately asked JDF for the time of day wondering if we would make it.  He smiled and held up his watch.  It was 4:32am.  He had been lying to me the whole time.  I briefly chocked up.  It was going to happen.  Finally.  I saw the next runner just ahead.  I fell 1 min short of catching him after a 48 min head start from Chantry.  It turns out it was my buddy Dave, who avenged his DNF last year spectacularly.  
I crossed the finish line and I couldn’t contain my emotions.  It was over and I had done it.  What a journey.  In the ensuing days I look back and of course wondered how much time I left out on the course.  What could I have done better?  It’s the joy and curse of the hundred miler.  It’ll always pull you in for more.  This particular race is more than just a race.  It’s a historic path through wonderful mountains that will teach you things about yourself you couldn’t have known otherwise.  Thanks to Marshall and Jimmy for taking their time and energy to help be a part of this journey.  Thank you to all the volunteers on the course and the special local ultrarunning community for making this race one to always come back to.
Final Time: 23:36

Finish: A hug from Sally McRae as I let my emotions get the best of me.
Photo: Michael Everest Dominguez

Congratulating Colin Cooley on a pacing and crewing job well done for Dave Daley
Reunited with my pacer/crew at the finish

Tired but happy with the sub-24 buckle at the award ceremony

Monday, January 12, 2015

The Year in Review: 2014...and what's ahead: 2015

It's time to reflect on the successes and shortcomings of the year.  This is one of my favorite posts because I also have a chance to look into the upcoming year and plan new adventures locally and around the globe.  To start, I want to look back on this year and see what I had set out to accomplish when I wrote a similar post on January 2, 2014.  Below is what I wrote at the beginning of 2014 of what I hoped to experience and typed in red is what actually happened.  Unforeseen and notable things are further down in green.
-Run WS 100 as well as I could possibly run it.  I have a goal time in mind and with the right lead up and perfect race it can be achieved. This includes a nutrition plan, training plan etc."
            Didn't intend to start off this way but it did: FAIL.  I did have the right lead up until two hours post Leona Divide 50 in April when I got out of my car and couldn't put significant body weight on my right leg.  That meant no running....for a month!  That basically destroyed any chance I had of doing well at Western States.  It was tough to take because I just PR'd in 7:58 at Leona.  I got injured (not surprising) during the run but finished.  Another year hopefully.
 -Backpack a long-distance route solo in the Arctic Circle.  I am super excited about a particular one.  It will be revealed when plane tickets are confirmed.
           My original intention was to backpack the Kungsleden in Sweden solo, but instead backpacked 300 miles across Iceland which is REALLY close to the Arctic Circle.  It sure felt like it most of the time too.  And it was with my buddy The Onion.
-Break my marathon PR.  I'll probably attempt one in the fall, but not too sure yet. 
            I ran LA Marathon just five weeks after I returned out of shape from South America.  So to be fair, I wasn't close to PR form: I ran a 3:05.  I had signed up for Chicago for October but didn't run it.
-Backpack the splendid Sierra High Route in its entirety in August and in one push.  I have backpacked most of it (200 miles) but broke it up into 2 seasons.  It´s the big brother to the JMT.  Mostly above 10k ft, with 20+ passes, and 75% off trail.  One of the best I´ve ever backpacked.  This years trek would mark my 10 year anniversary/love affair with backpacking.  An idealistic kid with dreams of the wilderness in the Sierras back in the summer of 2004. I owe a lot to that solo experience.  This would be an appropriate way to celebrate it.
           Started it with my good friend, Chris Price.  Took a nice spill coming off Frozen Lake Pass and opened up my shin pretty good.  Took a couple days off the trail to treat it and came back out with Chris but ultimately only completed half of it due to time constraints.  It was a great trip nonetheless.
-Finally, run the length of the Backbone Trail.  I´ve been ignoring the one long(ish) trail that´s in my own backyard!
          Decided not to run the race (which doesn't exist anymore) or trail in one go.
-There are a few other backpacking and running trips this year but they are not set in stone quite yet.  Probably some 3 dayers in spring and potentially a thru hike. Maybe introduce some friends to what backpacking is all about?
          The backpacking trips included Iceland, Sierra High Route, and New Zealand.  I introduced Chris to cross-country backpacking so that counts for something.
-Sub-24 at Angeles Crest 100.  Not really my style to run two 100 mile races close to each other so this might be the only year I do it.
         I just wanted to do this to get a Hardrock qualifier.  I did this 1 week after Iceland and 5 weeks after Western States.  Unfortunately, no hills or heat training was there in Iceland.  So I got my ass whooped and completed my slowest hundo to date, BUT got my Hardrock qualifier. 
-Be a more thorough therapist.  I occasionally see runners at my place from time to time and I usually give the basic stuff but I frankly think it needs more day to day evaluation and treatment.  In light of that I´m going to start seeing patients weekly until I feel their issues are either resolved or I´ve given my best effort.  I´ve received way too much good in this short life so far to not give back.  So contact me if you´re interested.  I´ll start at the end of the month.
         OK, so I did create a website, started seeing runners privately, but since it's so time consuming I charge a $50 fee per visit.
-And one more thing I can't reveal quite yet.  Hopefully soon though.
         I think a few people guessed this.  I asked Megan to marry me and she said yes.  We got married in September.

There were a few unforeseen things this year that are worth mentioning:
-I had a great time running with the VCC (Venice Coffee Club) in the weeks before the LA Marathon.
-Who knew Western States Training camp would be so much fun.  It was like overnight camp for ultrarunners.  A well put together few days where I made new friends, ran with current ones, and saw 70 miles of the course.
-Mt. Russell summit.  A true Class 3 summit in the Eastern Sierra that was simply terrifying at times and spectacular.  Good times with Chris and Erik.
-Iron Mountain summit.  It's been a long time coming and it was a fun one to do with Dom and Andy.
-New Zealand backpacking and running for 25 days.  It was technically our honeymoon and ended up being one of my favorite trips.

As far as this year is concerned here are the things that come to mind now:

-Proper training and performing to my potential in 100 mile races.  These races are still so elusive to me and haven't put the right training in and performed well in them.  I'm so over slogging through another one of them.  I have signed up for Zion 100 in April and I'm 5-6 weeks into my current training program.  This includes strength/conditioning twice a week, mobility/maintenance twice a week and an actual training plan.  I don't know why it's taken so long but I am finally giving the race and my body my undo attention, time, and respect to not only complete it but do my very best.
-LA Marathon! Road marathons aren't really my thing but my hometown one means a lot (especially since I'm running to my apartment essentially) and this will be part of the build up to Zion. My B-race (we'll see what that means when the gun goes off).
-Due to the fact that I have 3 hundred mile races coming up this year (possibly 4), what better way to take time off running than to thru-hike a trail: I've listed the races I'm currently signed up for with the trails I'm thinking about backpacking after them:

-Zion 100 - there are some backpacking options in April but I think I'll hold of until the summer
-San Diego 100 - The 500 mile Colorado Trail in late June/early July, just in time to pace Chris Price at Hardrock 100 in mid-July.  I've done the CT back in 2007 but I just remember being hungry all the time.  It's nice to re-visit this at a different point in my life. Plus, with new re-routes some sections will be somewhat new.  Alternatively, I may do a CO road trip to camp, climb peaks, and enjoy the backcountry for a couple weeks prior to pacing.
-Angeles Crest 100 - Haute Randonnée Pyrénéenne (HRP).  After thru-hiking the Grand Traverse of the Alps in 2011 I've been wanting to explore these mountains and I don't think there is a better route (mix of trail and cross country) from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea than through 500 miles of the Pyrenees. 
-Wasatch 100 (based upon lottery) - JMT. A good time to get my fourth thru-hike of this great trail, after the mosquitoes and running season have passed.  Regardless of whether I end up running Wasatch due to end-of-summer 100 mile fatigue I'll still plan on this trek.

-A trip to Morocco may be in store for Megan and I, come September, and that's a region for whatever reason I feel I may have a strong bond to.

The above seems like a lot to me, and I guess it is.  I'll be amazed if it all comes together perfectly, but seeing as I only have a finite amount of years, I say dream big and experience the wonders of this great earth while you can.

First sunrise of 2015. 
"I have learned, that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours." -Henry David Thoreau

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Iceland Traverse

I'll start by stating that my preferred backpacking terrain is mountainous.  Iceland was a 170 degree turn (the 40 km of the hilly Laugavegur salvaged the final 10 degrees) and I was debating for a while with The Onion if it was something I wanted to commit to.  Well, after 40+ emails we made it official and headed over to Reykjavik.  Our plan was to follow Jonathan Lay's route he came up with in 2006 and we had Trauma's 30+ detailed maps with us but turned out to be completely useless weight in my pack.  After spending a day in the capital mailing re-supply packages via bus to Myvatn, Nyidalur, and Landmannalaguar I took a small propeller plan to Akureyri to meet Onion.  After meeting at the bus "terminal" we bussed it to the whale capital of Iceland, Husavik, in the hopes of catching a ride to the "official" starting point of Hraunhafnartangi.  I got restless after an hour of failing to get a hitch that would probably take us another day so I convinced Onion to start from Husavik which is still on the Greenland Sea and hike east until we meet the original route.  Instead of a blow-by-blow account, I'll talk about what was unique and I'll let the photos and videos below paint a picture.

It took us a little over a day to reach this beautiful canyon while hiking in a seemingly endless cloud to reach this canyon and meet back up with Ley's route.  The route hugged the cliff side and we were awarded with a great views with the culmination of a great waterfall.

 Dettifoss, at the end of the canyon, was a powerful waterfall filled with black sediment.  A sight to behold.

After our first re-supply, we finally start heading into the barren Highlands of Iceland.  Nothing exists here except glacier, rock, and volcanic ash.  A black desert exposed to the harsh weather of erosion: wind and water.  

Another characteristic of the trek that was unique was the 24 hours of light.  For the entire trip I never once saw darkness so items like an eye cover were critical to get some sleep.  The natural rhythms of light and dark usually dictate when to start and stop hiking.  Without darkness as a guide we usually got late starts, starting between 8-9 and usually didn't stop until 9-10.  The below clip shows what it would be like at 3am.  And there was nowhere to hide from the wind and rain.  Protection for our shelter were hard to come by.

Headwinds with pelting rain seemed to be more common as we ventured further south.  Sometimes it would be quite piercing as it would coming off the massive glacier of Vatnajökulsþjóðgarður.  Good luck with that word.

The character of the landscape changed almost suddenly, as the Highlands gave way to beautiful colorful hills where the popular Laugavegurs northern terminus is located.  We would actually be on trail for the next 40-50km.  It was the most spectacular section of the trek. 

Several times during the trek we encountered steaming vents that had the odor of sulfur.  The entire country is a breeding ground of geothermal activity but none was so visible to us then on this section of the trek.

If we ever hang out you can ask me about the last day of the trek and what hell we went through to get to the North Atlantic Ocean.  It was certainly the worst weather (hurricane headwinds, sub-freezing temps, sleet for 7 hours) by far I've ever encountered and it involved getting lost, saving a French couple, and being close to hypothermia.  When Onion had a chance to pull out his camera he took some clips.  They don't tell the full tale but they're fun to watch.

The final walk to the North Atlantic was a time of reflection on the journey and what the trip was about. 

Another main reason why I did this trek was because I didn't think I would ever get a chance to again.  It's something I had no interest in doing alone and I honestly don't know any other person that would do this besides The Onion.  I'm glad to have taken advantage of the opportunity to walk across a country unlike most others I will probably ever see. We heard that some volcanoes were ready to go and hoped they would hold off until we left.  It turns out a volcano under the massive glacier we walked several kilometers from decided to erupt several weeks after we left.

To see the full photo album, click here.

Acknowledgements: Thanks to The Onion for convincing me to go on this trek and for providing good company, some extra food, and the videos above.  

Stats: The route was around 300 miles but it's impossible to get an exact number and it took us 12 days and change to complete it.  I brought a low amount of calories, roughly 2000/day, and it took a toll on me and my body, especially being 1 week post Western States 100.

Gear:  I used my regular 3 season gear with a few exceptions.  I used a synthetic quilt by Enlightened Equipment Prodigy that proved light and useful in the wet conditions, the ULA Circuit: a larger 68L pack than I'm used to using to accomodate the extra gear, Marmot Scree softshell pants that proved to work quite well for the trip.  My gear list for this trip without the weights.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Western States 100

Squaw Valley. Start of WS 100 Photo: KMF
The training leading up to this race wasn't great.  I got hurt after Leona Divide 50 that kept me on the sidelines for a month, finally being able to run by the end of May, just in time for WS Training Camp.  The rest of the buildup was "meh" at best but I had a good base since February so I thought I would be fine to achieve my "A" goal, which was sub-24.  After a couple of nights at Squaw taking in the scene and hanging out with several friends who were running/crewing we were off before dawn up to Emigrant Pass.  Hiking all of the way up, a beautiful sunrise greeted us while being surrounded by bright yellow wildflowers.  Then the descent started and got stuck behind a congo line of runners who were so keen early on up the climb but didn't have the same adeptness to go downhill.  So after a lot of "Excuse me, on your left" talk I finally got some running room and developed into a good rhythm.  I altered my running gait to keep my stride short, thinking it would keep me conservative, but it would later be the culprit.  After getting through mile ~30 at Robinson Flat and seeing my crew (Marshall and Megan) for the first time I knew what was ahead. Lots of open and hot downhill.  I felt good and kept an easy pace until mile 40 and that's when signs of alien life entered the back of my knee. It felt like a small strain and it had me concerned knowing full well how small things become gargantuan things later in a 100.  However, it didn't really affect my running so I got a quick (albeit, ineffective) massage at the mile 40ish aid station hoping it would help.  It didn't matter at this point anyway because I started to get a drop in energy.  Feeling this way on the climb up Devils Thumb sucked and I plopped in a chair once I got to the aid station and started the caffeine train.  I got a small pick me up and was able to get to Last Chance feeling pretty good.  Then the climb started to Michigan Bluff and the feelings of crap came rushing back again.  Now my knee started to bother me a little more.  So I got to the aid station and had some medical staff help me.  I told them what I thought it was and a fellow PT tried to help me out.  Nothing really worked and I was still feeling like crap.  So I got some food down, saw my crew, and got out of there to the final canyon.  I started to feel a lot better going down Volcano Canyon but slowed on the next climb to Bath Road.  I saw Garret, picked him up and we made good time to Foresthill, where I was in better spirits.  After a fun pit stop we continued down the infamous Cal Street.  It took me a little while to get into a rhythm.  At Cal St 2 Aid I finally let out a large belch and instantly felt better.  Now I was ready to run.  We made great time to the river where I met Marshall and Megan.  Garret really helped push me on this section and I finally came back to life a little.  I sat down, took down some calories (I think), and picked up Marshall.  We had plenty of time to get to the finish for a sub-24 buckle.  I got up and my knee was even worse now.  We crossed the bone-chilling river and started the slog up to Green Gate.  It's not even steep and I felt bad just barely walking but the back of my knee and feet were killing me.  This is where my gait started to be affected.  I couldn't run normally anymore but I could "shuffle-limp" so I did that.  I wasn't taking in calories either so that compounded things but all I could focus on was my knee. Actually at this point, "stupid knee" is how I referred to it.  The next 12 miles were a blur and we arrived at mile 90 and I was completely spent.  I sat down and tried to eat something but I became really nauseous at anything I took.  Hal Koerner helped me a bit and seemed too excited for me. I wish I felt half as enthusiastic.  10 miles seemed an eternity but I had a comfortable 3.5 hours to do it in.  And it was an easy ten.  Simple right? I got up and knew instantly that the back of my knee could take no more.  I couldn't straighten it and I couldn't bend it without pain and trying to run was laughable.  So I limped out with Marshall and was pretty discouraged.  I knew it wasn't going to get any better.  On top of that the lack of calories caught up and I stopped in the middle of the trail.  I couldn't go anymore.  After arguing with Marshall on how I wanted to go back or take a nap "right now" he finally allowed me to rest and reset mentally.  After 15 minutes of lying down I got up and felt better.  But it was a slow limp walk and it was pretty pathetic.  Knowing that my "A" goal would not be achieved this close to the end and knowing I could hurt myself more considering I had a long backpacking trip in a week I had the intention to stop at Hwy 49: mile 93.5.  I got there, dejected, and asked Megan if I should drop.  I didn't know.  The injury now had affected my entire leg.  The back of the knee was swollen as well as the rest of the leg on down.  An MD looked at me and thought I tore a calf muscle.  So I lay in the cot contemplating whether it was worth continuing or not.  30 minutes passed and I was still unsure.  I got up and tried to walk but that was really hard to do.  The look of concern on Megan made me aware that I didn't look good either.  As I walked more though the knee started to loosen up, just enough.  I called out to Marshall and gave a quick nod toward the trail.  We would limp it on in.  The next 6 miles took forever and I finally made my way around the track and to the finish.  26:46.  The last 10 miles took me 6 hours.  The feelings of jubilation for making it and completing this historic race weren't there.  I felt sad on how this race ended and even bitter.  I didn't even want the buckle because it would only remind me of the way that race ended.  What it did leave me with is a hunger and need to run another 100.  And run it well.  I'm over slogging it out.  It gets old quick.  It's not how I want to race and I have no more interest in finishing races like that.  Little did I know....
My crew and pacers were great out there, dedicating their weekend for me.  I'm disappointed I couldn't put it together in the end and get the silver buckle for them, but I promise that won't be the case next time.  The community and support of Western States is huge and unlike I had ever seen.  Maybe one of these years, if I should be so lucky, I'll return and do this race some justice. 

Off to Robinson Flat Photo: ULTV

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Leona Divide 50, Auburn, Iceland...oh my

I'm writing this a second time because my computer decided it was going a different direction.  Without further ado...The plan has been going as hoped with the LA Marathon back in March serving as my first prep race in which flat road speed would be my primary focus.  For Leona, I wanted to start my long training runs early in the season and avoid playing catch-up, as I normally seem to be doing before 100s.
But as soon as my name was miraculously plucked from a hat in Auburn back in December I knew I had to put in my due diligence.  How many chances does a runner get to run Western States in this evolving world of ultrarunning? The straight answer is not many. 
Fortunately, I have an awesome group of local ultrarunners that are always willing to spend a whole day running and the mountains to boot. 
The last 25 meters of LD50
My birthday on 3/29 kicked off my first long run of the season, a 31 miler (to commemorate turning that age) on the old Ray Miller 50km course (on a side note, pleeeaasse bring back Ray Miller 50!). The subsequent weeks leading up to LD50 saw long runs in the San Gabriel mountains in uncommonly cool temps.  This is some of the best prep I've done for a 50 and it showed on race day.  I entered Leona in the hopes of running in the heat and I chose the course because of its runnability.  However, due to permitting issues the RD, Keira Henninger, had to re-route the course.  Usually, that ends up making the course redundant and less scenic.  The opposite was true for this race.  On an unusually cool day, the race began.  My intention was to run via my HR and use it as a tool to understand if I was going too easy, too hard, not taking enough calories, and overall stress levels.  Also, the goal for this race was to run splits as even as possible, allowing for a +10 minute split on the second half.  But with that I broke one of the cardinal rules of running: don't try anything new on race day.  To hell with it though, this was a WS trial run.  I used a utility belt (UD SJ Essential) and new gels I've never tried (V-fuel).  Overall the race went as about good as I was hoping.  Almost exactly even splits between the first and second half of the race while running about 95% of the time.  I thought I could finish under 8 and the final time of 7:58(PR) was on the mark, earning me an 11th place finish.  I finished the race on a high and drove 2 hours home.  As soon as I got out of the car I started limping because of severe pain in my R quad region.  I took the next 4 days off with mild improvement in the pain but there was still no way I could walk, let alone run.  So I tried to self-diagnose (after all I'm a PT) but the pain was so diffuse and I couldn't perform some of the tests on myself that I went to a couple PT colleagues.  Turns out it's most likely an adductor magnus GII strain/tear.  So I decided to stop running for 1 more week hoping that going to gym, getting some massage therapy, biking, hopping on the elliptical (which were all pain free) would help improve the healing process.  Well, it helped but still not enough where I could run.  Anytime I would try I'd had shooting pain when I landed and so my gait started to change.  Walking hurt.  So now 3 weeks had passed and I hadn't done much.  With WS approaching and training camp only 5 days away I started to worry: that basically involved watching Unbreakable and moping.  As a last resort I tried a local acupuncturist, hoping dry needling would live up to the current research.  It worked.  Maybe not in that moment but in 3 days I was able to run, with no symptoms, the 70 miles of Western States training camp in 3 days.  It was such a blast. 
Volcano Canyon (photo: Chris Price)
The WS organization knows how to put on an event.  Having perfected logistics, they have incredible aid stations and great volunteers.  To me it felt like what sleep-away camp would be for trail runners; running, playing in the creeks and rivers, and hanging out.  I was sad to see it end and had a great time with my carpool buddy Prizzle and the rest of the SoCal gang: Keira, Jesse, Dom, and Katie.  The town of Auburn certainly has a special appeal and now I understand the mystique of Western States 100.  It's not so much the course itself but what surrounds it: Easy going, friendly locals, who open up their home to you (thank you to the Curly's for putting up two strangers), legends of ultrarunning taking no qualm in asking what you need at aid stations, and runners with a common interest of letting things go in the surrounding wilderness.  Now that I'm back home, the training will continue in the form of long runs, sauna time, and strength training with the hopes of being as prepared as I ever have for a 100 and producing my best run yet. 
M7 (Jesse Haynes), Keira, me, Prizzle (photo: Chris Price)
On a quick note I've decided to backpack across the entire country of Iceland (north to south) in July with my backpacking and ultrarunning friend, The Onion.  We will be following J. Ley's route right through the heart of the country with the intention of experiencing some of the most unique and strange wilderness this world has to showcase.  Further details in another post.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

The Year in Review: 2013

This is one of my favorite times to write on this blog.  A healthy reflection on what the past year encompassed and the exciting unknowns of the upcoming year.  Exactly one year ago, I ran up and down Mt. Wilson and got injured at the end of the run.  That lingered and affected the first half of the year (running-related) for 6 months afterwards, mostly due to my procrastination in dealing with it.  I was determined to start this year on a different note.  First a look back on 2013:
-I stopped working at the orthopedic clinic I had been a part of for the past year and continued full-time with home health allowing me to dictate my schedule and allowing for time to be spent elsewhere.  That is something that I treasure above most things.
-An underwhelming effort at the Los Angeles Marathon in March, and subsequent passing over of the Backbone Trail race I was signed up for a few weeks later.
-The realization that not everything you read or see gives the whole story.  Megan went to Sri Lanka after the marathon after soundly beating me and I didn´t want to because I didn´t think it was worth it.  After she told me about the trip and I saw her photos, I was dead wrong.
-I payed off all my student loans on my birthday.  It took less than a year of work and that was a major victory for me.  Thanks to the low tuition of the Cal State system (although now the tuition is MUCH higher), FAFSA grants for easing the burden throughout the years, and the ability to be extremely frugal with money.
-I turned 30.  Looking back on my 20´s, I can say without any doubt it included the biggest turning point in my life.  I went from being lost, out of school, and working odd jobs to discovering my passion in life and working hard (along with the fortunate doors that opened at the right time) to allow myself to live my life through those passions.  Maximizing the time that I have on this earth became priority and I intend to continue that trend.
-Pacing my good friend, Marshall, to his first sub-24 hour finish at Zion 100.  Running that Guacamole Loop with him was like a slow version of Space Mountain ride in Disneyland. 
-Spending the late spring and early summer hiking, running, and hanging out with friends in my most favorite of mountains: the Sierra Nevada.
-Backpacking the JMT for the 3rd time, and the quickest for me so far, with another good friend, Chris.  I suffered quite a bit at times, but it was wonderful to share these mountains with another mountain-lover.
-Pacing Chris the final 18 miles at Hardrock 100.  That was one of the most fun pacing jobs I´ve ever had.  He had enough confidence in me to give me that privilege and he ran a spectacular race.
-Having amazing friends that flew and drove from all over the US to crew and pace me at Leadville Trail 100.  On top of that I was able to come away with the sub-25 buckle.  However, still loads to learn and actually implement in regards to running and training for 100´s.  Those same friends are coming out for my Western States 100 attempt in June and I cannot wait to be in top form for them.
-Backpacking ¨The Walker´s Haute Route,¨ a 115 mile trail from Chamonix, France to Zermatt, Switzerland.  Mile for mile the toughest trek I´ve been on, with 43,000 ft in climbing (same amount descending too).  It was a highlight-filled trek that included day hike/runs in both Chamonix and Zermatt.  Simply spectacular.  Highlight of the year.
-Able to break 3 hours (2:57:45) in the marathon for the first time at CIM in December.  This was my fifth marathon (in 6 attempts).
-Spending 5 weeks in Patagonia; first with my original backpacking partner, Joel Peach, and soon with my girlfriend, Megan.

As I ran along Punta Arenas´ version of a boardwalk and looked out into the windswept ocean I was able to contemplate what 2014 will shape up to be (in no particular order):
-Run WS 100 as well as I could possibly run it.  I have a goal time in mind and with the right lead up and perfect race it can be achieved. This includes a nutrition plan, training plan etc.
-Backpack a long-distance route solo in the Arctic Circle.  I am super excited about a particular one.  It will be revealed when plane tickets are confirmed.
-Break my marathon PR.  I'll probably attempt one in the fall, but not too sure yet. 
-Backpack the splendid Sierra High Route in its entirety in August and in one push.  I have backpacked most of it (200 miles) but broke it up into 2 seasons.  It´s the big brother to the JMT.  Mostly above 10k ft, with 20+ passes, and 75% off trail.  One of the best I´ve ever backpacked.  This years trek would mark my 10 year anniversary/love affair with backpacking.  An idealistic kid with dreams of the wilderness in the Sierras back in the summer of 2004. I owe a lot to that solo experience.  This would be an appropriate way to celebrate it.
-Finally, run the length of the Backbone Trail.  I´ve been ignoring the one long(ish) trail that´s in my own backyard!
-There are a few other backpacking and running trips this year but they are not set in stone quite yet.  Probably some 3 dayers in spring and potentially a thru hike. Maybe introduce some friends to what backpacking is all about?
-Sub-24 at Angeles Crest 100.  Not really my style to run two 100 mile races close to each other so this might be the only year I do it.
-Be a more thorough therapist.  I occasionally see runners at my place from time to time and I usually give the basic stuff but I frankly think it needs more day to day evaluation and treatment.  In light of that I´m going to start seeing patients weekly until I feel their issues are either resolved or I´ve given my best effort.  I´ve received way too much good in this short life so far to not give back.  I can only take a couple at a time to be effective with my current schedule but it will be pro-bono.  So contact me if you´re interested.  I´ll start at the end of the month.
-And one more thing I can´t reveal quite yet.  Hopefully soon though.

So a great morning run with no injuries.  Just cold wind, skeletons of rusted ships right on shore, and the first rays of light of 2014. Alright, time to get on this.  Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

California International Marathon: Race Report

 Trust.  That´s what this entire training program and race came down to.  Should I trust in the training I set up for myself? Should I trust the strategy I wanted to run in the marathon without getting nervous as to whether it was going to work out or not?  Should I trust I was fully prepared to reach my goal?  Instead of my usual worrying and letting uncertainty control the outcome I decided to let go and trust that everything was going to work out.
Earlier this year the Los Angeles Marathon put a dent in my confidence to run a marathon well.  I had put 16 weeks of 80-90 miles to break the invisible sub-3 barrier and I thought I was fit enough to do it. After faltering early in the race, I struggled to finish and crossed the line in a disappointing 3:12.  Faulty race day execution, a poorly thought out and executed training plan, and nagging injuries due to said training plan all contributed to that result.  Sick, literally and figuratively, in the weeks after the race I looked back on what went wrong and things started to pop up immediately.  I decided to use those lessons I learned and apply them to the next marathon I would run.  Lessons such as:
-Limiting my weekly mileage.  I didn´t need 80-90 mile weeks.  I only ended up needing around 60/week with a well thought out plan.
-Having a very limited amount of hard runs during the week, but with each one having a precise purpose.  In a training program, constantly running hard without purpose is detrimental to the overall picture in long distance events.  For me, two high quality runs per week was enough.   
-Running the weekend long run at aerobic capacity.  Running with TCLA on Saturday is difficult because they tend to go out faster than my aerobic pace from the get go and most of the time I would end up running alone.  At times I would get pissed off at my heart rate because I wanted to run with them but I wanted to give this plan a fair chance.  Looking back, this was a downfall in the lead up to the LA Marathon. For the goal pace I wanted to run in the marathon this long run pace was simply too fast .
-Having a mix of road and trail runs.
-Limiting my long run to 2-3 hours total, maximum.
-Run a marathon negative split.  If I couldn´t run the first half at marathon goal pace without pushing on the gas pedal then I had no business running that pace.
-Taper and carbohydrate load properly.  2 weeks worked for this training cycle. The first week was little running, the second week mostly not running with some walking.  I was rewarded with light legs and plenty of energy.

Surprised but happy to see Megan and Elissa at mile 13.1
On a frigid morning of 20 degrees I shivered until the start of the race.  I couldn´t feel my hands or feet.  Off we went.  I heeded numerous warnings of not going out too fast on the first downhill mile. 6:56 first mile.  If my goal pace was 6:52 then this would be considered a slow start.  I was determined to run the first 13.1 miles at goal pace or even several seconds slower.  If I couldn´t do that then I should forget about sub-3.  I was feeling quite good and itching to run faster.  I held back though and I knew if I was able to run this seemingly easy pace for the first 20 then I could let it out for the final 6.2.  So the marathon became a waiting game and was quite boring but I had music to keep me company.  I reached the halfway mark in 1:29:35 which was a 6:52 pace and was surprised to see Megan and Elissa cheering me on.  Now that the hills were done I decided to let it out a notch for the next 7 miles and see how that felt.  I continued to feel great and started to average 6:45 for that stretch.  I was happy to see mile 20 because that meant I could empty out the tank for the next 6.2 miles.  I clicked off a 6:31 mile from mile 20-21 but felt a little over zealous so I reigned it back a bit.  My form started to break down at mile 22 and I started to use everything I had to maintain pace, which was around 6:40.  I felt my IT band on my left knee starting to tighten and I hoped with all my might that it wouldn´t be a factor.  Everything was hurting but I knew the end was close.  These miles seemed to take a while but soon mile 26 was reached and I picked it up the final .2 miles because I simply had the energy.  I crossed the line in 2:57:45, about 2 minuted under my goal pace.  I was happy but exhausted and weaving a bit.  I averaged 6:40 the final 6.2.  Trusting the training and race strategy paid off.  I saw Megan at the finish, gave her a hug and declared, ¨"I retire from marathons!"

I still couldn´t feel my hands and was cold but was really satisfied.  Thank you to Elissa, Chris, and her family for letting us stay over the night before.  Thanks to all my TCLA and trail running friends.  The above lessons worked for me through trial and error, prior failures, advise from other runners, and exercise physiology research.  I´m really excited to head back to ultras for the time being until Fall 2014 where I hope to lower this current mark.  Merry Christmas!