Sunday, July 27, 2014

Mohican 100 Mile Run Race Report


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What a buckle, love it, wished it was bigger.

THE COURSE
This was the run, not to be confused with the 100 mile mountain bike race—easy to do when you are at the event website. It was held in Loudonville about 1.5 hours South of Cleveland. The course is 95% single track and it is comprised of 4 loops; two 26.8 mile loops and two 23.2 miles loop. The shorter loop is just a variation of the longer loop, it cuts out a technical but fun and scenic part of the course. The single track is gorgeous, hardly technical and not too hilly compared to our trails here in the Bay Area. Long sections of soft, tree covered trails to lose yourself in. On the long version of the loop we are treated to Vernon Falls, a small rocky waterfall that is down to a trickle at this time of the year, accessed via a long set of wooden steps. This was followed by running in a creek bed that is more creek than trail with lots of logs and vegetation which eventually led us at the foot of a wall made up of tree roots about one story high. It was a blast to climb. Time consuming section but a ton of fun. From there we made our way to a dam, a river and a covered bridge, the one immortalized in the finisher's buckle. The final 11 or so miles back to the start/finish is mostly downhill. I enjoyed this section the most. There is some road to chew before finally arriving at the turnaround and while this was my least favorite section, especially since we passed by the finish line, I enjoyed the cheering and clapping.

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Yours truly, excited to start another 100.

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Something wonderful and cozy about a dark start. Hard to get up for but I love it—more daylight hours on the course.

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This picture doesn't do it justice but here is the root wall.

RACE MORNING
Hotels in Loudonville are surprisingly expensive. Well expensive if you don't want to spend over $100 a night. I ended up staying in a Super 8 in Ashland which is about 30 minutes away. There was a Denny's right next to the motel and a Walmart Supercenter only 5 minutes away where I picked up a back up 150 lumen light for $10 (more like 75 lumens but it does the job ). I was set on food and supplies but what I couldn't get was sleep. I was too anxious and my body was on Pacific time. When I finally got sleepy at 3 AM, 12 AM Pacific, it was time to get up. I should have come a day earlier. Thankfully I had caffeine in my drop bags. I was out and on my way by 3:30 AM.

Race morning was a bit tricky but not too bad. When I got to the race venue around 4 AM there were no volunteers with flashlights to show us the way. That's something we do here in the Bay Area and I've gotten used to it. We're quite spoiled. The packet pickup location, which also served as the finish line, was about a quarter of a mile from the parking lot which in itself was also about a quarter of a mile from the start/turnaround point. I found out later that this was new for this year. Finding these places in the dark was a challenge; found packet pickup after I drove by it, found the start line first before I found the parking lot but eventually with the help of other runners I found my way.

LOOP 1
It was a dark start, lots of running by light on the first hour but it went very smoothly. The weather turned out great. I worried it might rain as in the previous days and it did but not until we were already under tree cover. I could hear the rain hitting the leaves but almost none of it got to us. The overcast skies kept the temperatures low. I felt really good and I had to work to keep it dialed down. The course felt more rolling than hilly, no major climb that left me breathless. There were a couple of climbs where I felt I was hiking up for 10+ minutes but they were not that bad. The first loop went well for the most part but at the end of it I felt fatigued and sapped. I wasn't worried but concerned I was hitting a low point so soon. The other issue that did worry me was nausea and I traced it down to the gels I was using. I prefer Power Gels which pack a high electrolyte content (200mg per packet)which is great on hot races but the wrong thing to use on this day. I was using two packets an hour with water but with the weather being what it was and my conservative pace, I was barely sweating. I needed the calories but not the salt. When I cut back on the Power Gels things improved a bit. I even started peeing again with my body not needing the extra water to dilute all that salt. My stomach was never the same however and the nausea would gradually get worse on the second half. This was probably due to the fact that since I no longer wanted to use my Power Gels, I used what they had which were Hammer Gels. My stomach also doesn't like Hammer gels but better Hammer than Power Gels at this point. I could have switched to real food I guess but none of it sounded good once the nausea set in. Thankfully, in addition to caffeine, I had also brought Pepto Bismol tabs.

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Heading towards the river.

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The covered bridge.

LOOP 2
Much like the first it went fairly well at the beginning. It had been raining during the week but despite that the water level on the creeks were low and the trails were fairly dry. There was one section that was especially slippery and I slipped and fell on that section but I came away with only a dirty backside. I made 50 miles in 11 hours which was good and it gave me a reasonable shot for sub-24. As I was finishing the loop however I got a familiar pain on the right side of my left knee which greatly worried me. It's right on the side, a small muscle surrounding the joint. The first time this happened was 2008 at the Kettle Moraine 100, mile 95, and it left me hobbling the last 5 miles to the finish. The second time it happened was at the Tahoe Rim Trail 100 six weeks later. This time the pain came on around mile 78 and I walked the last 22 miles to the finish. Running at any speed was painful. I massaged it, had a volunteer tape it at the turnaround but to no avail. As I left for the third loop the knee locked up and I was forced to walk.

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Loved all the greenery.

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Wonderful singletrack.

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Vernon Falls, down to a trickle.

LOOP 3
I didn't panic but I was probably sweating. I just couldn't fathom walking the next 46 miles but I didn't want to quit either. I had never dnf'ed a race and moreover this was my only qualifying race for the Western States lottery on my race schedule. It was this or nothing. Walking back to the trail head I resolved to give it my best effort. I tore off the tape because it wasn't helping and hobbled along at my best speed. I tried different foot strikes, different postures, and I found that bending over and running on my toes helped with the pain but not a realistic viable solution as you can imagine. Wouldn't you know it though, after 1.5 miles of this, it loosened up on it's own like a cramp. I beat that sucker down to submission and I would run well for the entire loop, finishing strong and at 18.5 hours for 77 miles.

LOOP 4
I had 5.5 hours to do the last 23 to attain a sub-24 but I knew then that it wasn't going to happen, not unless I had some untapped reserves that was ready to go. I had slowed down a lot and the pain on my left knee was coming back. Darkness had settled in and under the cover of the trees it was quite dark. It made me sleepy despite the constant infusion of caffeine. There is something cozy about the darkness, like a blanket over your head, shutting out a lot of stimuli. The lack of sleep caught up with me. I played with the idea of taking short nap at the next aid station despite never having done so at a race. I'm a napper though, give me 5 minutes and I'll be 100% better. I was pondering this very thing when it happened, for sure it was the fatigue. I blew by a sign telling me to turn right for the aid station and continued down the gravel road I was traveling on until it met back up with the course further down. I cut out about .5 to .75 miles. I didn't realize my mistake until I could hear the music of the second aid station. The miles on my Garmin confirmed it. It was frustrating and heartbreaking but at least it woke me up. There was no question I was going to go back and make it right. The last thing I wanted was to finish the damned thing knowing I cut the course. I'm no podium runner, the finish is my reward and I won't taint that. It was demoralizing running into people going the other way but what could I do. The first runner pacer pair I encountered estimated they were 30 minutes from the aid station I missed and that was accurate. The pride I took in doing the right thing gave me a warm feeling but it was still a shitty situation. My inner voice was kind and kept silent the entire time, it wasn't the time for self-recrimination. After making it to the aid station, I wasted no time heading to the second. When I got there I followed through with my plan to catch some sleep. I didn't think I could fall asleep with all the cheering and clapping but I did. A volunteer was going to wake me up after 10 but I was up at 9 and out there as soon as I could gather myself. Cold, with a sore knee and nausea, I wasn't looking forward to the remaining miles but it was what it was.

The sun rose halfway through the loop, thank God because the caffeinated gels only made me more nauseous. The pepto tabs helped but only so much. I was dry heaving by mile 90. With the goal of sub-24 long gone I was content walking in the last 10 miles. My only regret was not being able to take full advantage of the great singletrack. What a waste! I finished at 28:12 and relieved it was over. Happy to have finished but… I really wanted another sub-24.

POST RACE
Finishing at 9 AM in the morning doesn't leave you much time to clean up, nap and check out of the hotel but what the hell, at least I finished that sucker. I went back to get my drop bags after checking out and caught the awards ceremony. I wasn't in a social mood so I watched for only a little while then left early. Made my way to Cleveland and another motel, glad to be back in a city. My flight the next day was not until the evening so I hit the town and checked out a few sight. Walking around a natural museum helped loosen tight muscles as well as entertain.

I had a great time and I wouldn't mind coming back. Such a great time and I liked Cleveland.

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That's me, all legs no arms. Working on it though, hitting the gym again. At the natural history museum in Cleveland.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Mohican 100 - A Quick Summary

That was another hard fought, tough to experience race. Reminds me of the time I had at Bighorn 100 last summer—just so happened that both races were on the same weekend this year. The only reason my time was faster at this event is because no mountains were involved! I had major issues compounded by getting lost in the middle of the night topped off with equipment failure. However, if there are character building training runs, then there are the character building races as well. Events that result in amazing experiences and hard to forget life lessons. Mohican is another one to add to my growing list. While I hate a character building anything because of the pain and work involved, I can't deny the positive changes.

The event itself was grand, the course was a playground of gorgeous tree covered single track, the stuff trail runners dreams are made of. The volunteers and staff were phenomenal and the weather cooperated. Furthermore the problems I had read about in other race reports that had plagued the race in its previous editions, over-crowded race starts and poor trail markings, was non-existent. In its 25th edition, on the things that mattered, the race was firing on all cylinders.

A full race report is forthcoming but in the meantime I'll share these short videos. I'm no JB Benna and they are a bit shaky but you'll get a sense of what it was like.

My weaknesses was exposed and combined with some bad luck my resolve was sorely tested. I finished physically trashed and weary but mentally I felt like a giant once more. I'm embarrassed for such a bad showing but also proud for not quitting. One day I will fail to finish a race, at one point I thought that day was last Saturday at the 25th running of the Mohican 100 Mile Run, but thank God that day is yet to come! Moving slower these days but still tenacious. Thank you Ohio and the Mohican 100-Mile Run. What an unforgetable experience.

No rest for the weary—Masha and I are headed out to a wedding in Paso Robles today, a 3 hour drive and after the reception we are going to drive the 4.5 hours to the finish line at Western States 100. Excited to watch, cheer and congratulate friends we manage to catch. Haha, ouch! Gonna be an exhausting weekend, especially since I'm still tired from Mohican (like I have bad jet lag) but both are not to be missed.



Monday, April 21, 2014

Lake Sonoma 50-Mile


Courtesy of Keli_1
Great place to run! Photo courtesy of Keli Kelemen.

THE COURSE
As my good friend Bradley Fenner put it, the race is "death by a thousand paper cuts". My Garmin had the total climb at around 11,000' and Stan Jensen's Run 100 site has it at 10,500'—you start and finish at the same place so the feet of total descent is the same. The route is a clockwise loop around the lake followed by a counter-clockwise loop back to the start. Whichever measurement is right it's a lot of climbing but it comes in small doses. It doesn't seem hard at first, especially when the trail is not technical but it wears you down.

It's a road start and we were on the road for about 3 miles—smooth rolling hills that served to stretch out the field before we entered the trails. Asphalt might be tougher on the legs but it sure is smooth and predictable, a great warmup for the day ahead. Once we entered the trails the terrain was a constant up and down trek through tree covered trails with several creek crossings and no big climbs or descents to speak of until we hit "Madrone Point" aid station at mile 18.8. The first real climb of the day starts here and at this point, the course is exposed. No tree cover until we return and get past Wulfow, water only aid, at mile 32.8. The terrain is mostly fire road at this point, all the way to the turnaround and back. Big up is followed by a big down, followed by another big uphill, then some rollers at the top of the ridge before finally arriving at the turnaround at No Name Flat aid station at mile 25.2. It's important to note that the turnaround isn't a straight down-and-back affair, it's more like a lollipop loop. We entered the loop going clockwise, a sign informed us we had three quarters of a mile to go, and after the aid station we continued to go around for what seemed like another half mile before rejoining the section of the trail where we encountered cross traffic from runners still heading out to the aid station. The return to the start is mostly through the same trails except the last 5k where the road section is replaced by single track. It might have been the same trails but it felt harder and more hilly. Was it really like this on the way out?!

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Green dot indicates the start and finish, note the loop at the turnaround point.

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Elevation profile.

Courtesy of Keli_5
Lots of smooth single track. Photo courtesy of Keli Kelemen.

MY RACE
The memory of that awful training run Masha and I had on the course three weeks prior haunted us. We were determined to race smartly and minimize our mistakes. The weather was a big help as not only was it cool and foggy in the morning but the day was cooler overall than expected with the highs in the low 70s. A blessing since we just couldn't fit heat training in our schedule. I started towards the back and once we were on the trails I slowly moved up to where I needed to be and dialed in my pace with the help of a heart rate monitor. The way out was uneventful until I reached Madrone Point at mile 18.8 when Zach Miller came flying by. Coming down the hill not too far behind was the chase pack with Sage Canaday. They all looked so cool and rockin', the peloton chasing hard after the breakaway rider. From this point forward the race got a lot more fun. This was right before the first big uphill on the course and on the ensuing downhill on the other side I saw the first four women led by Emily Harrison. These ladies were cranking the uphill. Seeing a lot of friends heading back got me psyched up for the turnaround—I couldn't wait to be heading home too.

Courtesy of Alviin Lubrino
Masha and I at the start. Photo courtesy of Alvin Lubrino

Courtesy of Joseph Condon_2
I like this picture, how I felt on the first half—calm and collected. Photo courtesy of Joseph Condon.

I hit the turnaround at 4:54 and took the time to drop things off at my drop bag and replenish my gels. My goal for the race overall was 10 hours and while I really wanted to be at the turn around by 4:30, I was still ecstatic to be under 5. As I headed out, I felt renewed and charged up. Slowly my pace increased and it felt natural. After a mile I was bombing the downhills and two things came to mind; first, that I took the first half to conservatively to have so much energy, and two, that I was going to fast trying to make up time. There was nothing I could do about the former but for the latter I made a deal with myself—just make it to forty then slug out the last ten. Secretly, I was hoping of course that everything would continue to be super all the way to the finish. Miles 25-38 were amazing. I was able to catch and pass every runner within my sights. I kept a tally in my head, a mental trick that has helped to keep me motivated in the past—climbing a ladder one runner at a time and doing my best not to slip back down the field.

Courtesy of Joseph Condon_1
At the turnaround, happy and excited. Photo courtesy of Joseph Condon.

Courtesy of Alvin Lubrino 2
Heading home and feeling great. Photo courtesy of Alvin Lubrino.

Courtesy of Keli_2
This is just mean! No sugar coating in this race. Photo courtesy of Keli Kelemen.

I was still moving well by the time I returned to Warm Spring Creek at 38 miles but I downed a half bottle of GU Brew and took a GU Roctane and I wasn't the same from that point forward. I felt bloated and queasy. I didn't have any experience with GU Brew or GU Roctane (only regular GU)but it hadn't bothered me earlier in the day. It seemed like it had come to bite me, it was either that or dehydration. With the weather being cooler and the fog lingering longer than expected, I dumped my second bottle the first time through Warm Springs. When the sun finally did come out and things warmed up a bit I consumed more liquids—the one bottle was not enough. Whatever it was it slowed me down. I also started having this urge to pee but when I did very little would come out. My urine was dark and I had a burning sensation down there. Not good. The only thing in my bottle was more GU Brew and the only thing to eat was more gels but I kept at it not wanting to run out of energy or make my dehydration worse. When I finally hit 40 miles things had stabilized a bit, nothing got worse and things as they were was manageable. A runner I had passed stayed with me and he would be a motivating force for the remainder of the run. The last 4.5 miles was mental torture. I was ready to be done and kept looking at my watch, the distance covered was always shorter than I wanted it to be! Eventually I crossed the finish in 9:47 with a 4:54 split at the turnaround. I negative split by 1 minute. Kind of cool but really kind of not. I should have gone a little harder for the first half then rationed out my remaining energy more judiciously for the second. Still, it was a great experience and I should be lucky with the mistakes I made, chief of which was using nutrition that I didn't use in training. Soon as I finished I quickly got some fluids in me, changed and waited for Masha. I knew shortly after the halfway point that she was right behind me when I didn't see her running to the turnaround as I was coming down—We were both on the lollipop loop at the same time. Knowing she was right behind put some extra wind in my sails.

MASHA'S RACE
I'd like to go on record that I was wrong at least three times concerning this race with Masha. Last year we were volunteers and she was so inspired she publicly proclaimed at the finish line that she was going to run the race this year despite having only a half-marathon as the longest event she's finished. I tried to convince her otherwise knowing that it would be a tough first 50. Second after spending the holidays and most of January at home in Russia, barely running, I told her that two months wasn't enough to train and tried to convince her to drop from the race. Lastly, I told her that the shoes she wanted were not the best for the terrain and distance. I was proven wrong on all three. She finished, her two months of training combined with the experience and base she built last year was just fine and she loved the shoes.

For the first half she strove to keep up with me, shadowing me. I remember looking down from a hill at mile 8 and seeing her sucking on a gel, waving back at me. At the turnaround she was only 6 minutes behind. On the second half she lost time as she got tired but kept control of her race. She had no problems with nutrition or hydration. No issues with blisters either. She came across the finish line beaming and proclaiming she would like to do it again next year. Her time was 11:07, a bit disappointed she didn't break 11 but glad to have finished.

Courtesy of Joseph Condon
Having fun at one of the stream crossings. Photo courtesy of Joseph Condon.

Courtesy of Ken Michal
Up, up, up, first big climb of the day. Photo courtesy of Ken Michal.

POST RACE
Back in my bachelor days I would have driven in the morning of the race and drove home after. Masha insisted we make a weekend out of it and stayed an extra night in Healdsburg. The next day we took advantage of the race sponsored wine tasting even at Mazocco winery but not before spending some time in the town square, hunting for a place for a quick brunch.

I took 3 days off running, Masha took 4 and between the two of us she fared the best. The night of and the day after I still felt the burning sensation when I urinated and I had some blood in my urine but this cleared after a couple of days. The day after I felt like I could run but thought the better of it. On Monday I felt just as well but opted for more rest but then on Tuesday I felt exhausted, a deep down fatigue that was hard to shake. I woke up tired and I stayed tired. My appetite was on hyper mode and I craved sugar. Free tickets to the ballet kept me off my workout but on Wednesday night I succeeded in getting seven miles in. While I felt fine during the run, on Thursday I was back to being really fatigued with a hyper appetite. This finally started to taper off by Friday and on Saturday mornings run in the Headlands I felt fine albeit slow. I've never experienced that before, a delayed fatigue and spike in my appetite.

SUMMARY
Overall it was a spectacular weekend! Both Masha and I felt like we could have done things better but as is, we were more than happy at how everything turned out. Pretty damned wonderful I'd say. Next year the race will be a lottery and I think we'll put our names in. If she gets in and I don't, I'll volunteer, and she would probably do the same if things were the other way around. If we both don't get in we'd probably both volunteer. Either way we plan to be back.

Courtesy of Keli_3
After Masha's finish, all smiles. Photo courtesy of Keli Kelemen.

Courtesy of Chris Jones
At the finish line tent with Ken and Denise. Denise volunteered, a nurse, she helped patch up a runner who took a fall. Photo courtesy of Chris Jones.


Saturday, March 29, 2014

Chill Day

Been taking it easy all day and it feels great. We woke up to rain and dark clouds and we were both thankful we didn't have to be out there running this morning. It's our "back down" week and it could have come sooner. The last three weeks have been build, build, build. Last weekend we felt so run down and trashed at the Lake Sonoma training run that we not only ran slow but crawled the last five miles. We both took two days off of training after that and spent the rest of the week doing easy runs. With Lake Sonoma only a couple of weeks away now, Masha will just go straight into her taper. I on the other hand will go right back to building since Lake Sonoma is simply a stepping stone to the Mohican 100 in June. I want to be prepared for Lake Sonoma but I can't do a lengthy taper since it's not my main goal race.

The training run was fun and well attended. It's been at least three years since I've run on the course — never done the race itself. It was good to re-familiarize myself with the trails and the major sections of the race. It started well enough but early on I noticed that we were going slow, covering only 4 miles an hour. Sure we stopped to take pictures and such but it shouldn't have been that slow. Masha led and I had her up the pace a bit. We ran at a faster pace for awhile but ultimately slowed back down. By mile 19, where I feel the course dramatically gets harder, we were cooked and it was a slow crawl back to the car at 25 miles. I've never laid down on the trail at races or training runs but I did here:) I didn't feel ill or anything, I just got an overwhelming desire to do so at 19.5 under the shade of a tree. I also got really hungry and wished I had something more substantial than gels in my waist pack. On the drive home I had to stop at a gas station to pick up a cold coffee drink to stay awake. I also gave in to what must have been a day old Krispy Kreme donut, I didn't really care at that point. Coffee got me home, donut made me wish I could turn back time.

So it's been easy miles and intensity for us this week. Last night I finally felt back to normal. Later this afternoon Masha and I will head out to the Presidio for some easy miles there. We thought about joining SFRC (click for great pictures)for their Saturday morning run this morning but I think we made the right choice to sleep in and enjoy a slower paced day.

Enjoy the pictures from the training run, it's mostly Masha because as much as she likes pictures she doesn't take any when she runs. I'm also adding the mental notes I took on the run:

• Start can be chilly (heavy fog through Sonoma in the morning)
• First 18 is no sweat if you are used to hills—rolling terrain with creek crossings and lots of tree cover
• After 18, trails are more exposed, sun will be up with big climbs starting around 19
• 25 to 31 will be equally tough, exposed trails and harder terrain
• Things should get easier after 31, back to gentler rolling terrain and more tree cover

We will be running our own race but our goal is the same. We plan on a conservative start, do our best not to get pulled into a faster pace with the cool temps and easy early terrain. Plan on getting to 18 feeling good, hold on through miles 19 to 31 then hurry home the last 19 with what energy we have left.

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Great turnout for the run.

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Coke never tasted so good, there was one aid station for the training run—nice of Jon Medinger and gang to set that up. We were only 12 miles in at this point but feeling like already ran 20.

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Good times despite being low energy.

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Wulflow, mile 17 of the race. This was our aid station last year. Janet Thompson and I were registered for the race but were injured so we volunteered instead. Masha came along and all three of us joined Greg Lanctot to make up the crew of the Wulflow aid station. It was a blast with Masha declaring publicly at the finish line that she was going to run the race the following year. Quite a surpise and a big deal since she had only finished her first half-marathon a couple of months before and her longest run was 18. Wulflow is also a shortcut on the training run, cuts out 6 miles.

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Mike Palmer and friends, more exposed sections after Wulflow.

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Beautiful out there. Never too tired to enjoy the scenery.

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The real climbs start and Masha is unhappy about it. Nothing like being tired right before the start of more challenging terrain.

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The unhappiness, much like the hill, continues.

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Finally the finish! RD John Medinger presiding at the parking lot. We were one of the last ones.