Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Running with Greyhounds

Fellow ultra-marathoner Luis Velasquez sends me a note via Facebook saying something about how fast I was like a rabbit. I sent him back a note saying that I sure was a rabbit but among Greyhounds.

"Way Too Cool 50k" was Way Too much Fun, well organized with amazing volunteers. In a nutshell I ran hard, gambled, lost but was able to keep it together and finished in 4:58 smiling and in very good spirits. The mud and stream crossings were as advertised; messy, tricky and whole lot of fun - if you're into that kind of thing. I was 72 out of 472 runners. Felt like the slacker in my carpool because my two buddies were in the top 20. Next time I need to carpool with people more my speed, kidding.

The day started out cold, low hanging fog at the start which quickly cleared up before the 8am start. It never got hot despite the sun but a mudfest awaited us along with numerous creek crossings. The creek crossings were a blessing because they washed some of the mud off which were at times ankle deep. The cold water felt good on the legs but at the same time they were tricky to navigate. Karyn Hoffman told me at the finish that she took an unplanned swim on one stream when she slipped. For the most part they were not too deep but the rocks underneath were hard to see and it was tough to judge depth. My main concern was turning an ankle, planting my foot on the edge of a rock or on one that shifted under my weight. When you are running hard, leaping into the air to cover as much distance over the water as possible, moving with a lot of momentum and speed, you pray that you made the right decision where to plant. Just before the ALT1 aid station, in front of cheering spectators and Tropical John Medinger's camera, I almost took a header myself into the water when I unexpectedly stepped into a deep part of the creek with my left foot. It was like coming down a flight of stairs and forgetting there was one more step left. There was one that was waist deep, no choice but to slow down on this one. It felt great, a quick cold water bath on the leg muscles but clambering on the other side was painful. The race has a total elevation gain of 3600 feet which isn't a lot but the conditions on the trail made it tougher.

I started out conservatively as I usually do and found myself in the early miles talking with a gentleman who has run the race many times. He informed me that he finishes about the same time every year. I asked him what his time was last year and he said, "about 6:12 but I'm 4 minutes ahead of my pace right now". That was a swift kick in the butt and I shifted gears pretty quickly after that. Before the first aid station at mile 7, I catch up to Karalee Morris and Gary Wang and felt better about my pace. I chatted a bit with Karalee and she told me not to worry, that I was a good runner. Silly but I felt more relaxed after she said that. Another case of a woman soothing a man's ego so he can feel better and do what he has to do. Sad but true. After that first aid station I let it rip. I knew I was going too hard, too fast, too early but I dared myself to keep going, "punch the gas and hang on Gaston!" Besides I trusted in my ability to suffer gracefully in case I blew. Miles 7-21 was a dream. I felt great and I was running down runners. I'd punch the accelerator on the uphills and the downhills and the engine went vrroooom. Unfortunately it didn't last, the wheels started to come off around mile 23 and not paying attention to my nutrition I also bonked. Caught it fairly quickly and a gel pack made me feel better but not before a couple of dark miles where I questioned my motivation for training and racing such events. I was getting passed back and it that didn't help. By mile 27 my legs were officially toasted but I had started working on the mental part of the game - staying positive, staying sharp and to keep pushing. "Pick a gear and keep it turning and smile ya dirty bastard smile" was what I repeated to myself. I continued to get passed but as the race progressed through it's final miles I improved mentally and was able to receive encouragement as well as give it. Their strong finishing pace inspired me to keep it together instead of making me despair. This was quite a departure on my usual M.O. at races. I'm the vulture runner. I'm the one who starts slow, lays back then picks off the dead with a strong finish. Not on Saturday.

When I returned to the Highway 49 aid station I was alone, the runners in front of me were far enough ahead and the runners behind far enough back. When I came in the place erupted in cheering and clapping. You would think I was the champ coming in for the finish. All the volunteers and spectators were clapping loudly, all eyes on me – phenomenal! Further buoyed by that show of support I hauled it the last 1.3 miles to the finish. Along the way I passed a very good runner, someone who should have been finishing closer to the 4 hour mark. It was obvious he was having a bad day. My heart went out to him and I mumbled his name as I passed but gunned it even harder once I was clear. We all have our battles and I was having my own with the clock on that final mile, totally gunning for that sub-5. The Swedish Bikini team could have pulled up alongside on that final mile and it would not have slowed the cadence of my legs.

Came in happy as a dog on a sunny day at the beach. Grinning like a fool and talking back to people all the way to the finish line. I was happy to have broken 5 hours but disappointed with my overall finishing time. I know I could have done better. I didn't stay disappointed for long however. I gambled and lost but I was able to hang on and keep my head in the game. I'm most proud of the latter. So important to keep it together mentally. When the mind goes, everything goes.

Post race was spent hanging out with friends, cleaning up and getting some chow. I was fortunate enough to have had the chance to talk to Leor Pantilat who won the race, successfully defending his win from last year. He chatted with about what happened on the front end and how he came through the finish line thinking he was second only to be told he was first. What also came through the conversation was how much respect he had for Geoff Roes and Max King. I've enclosed links to their race reports, the race from two of the top three.

Leor Pantilat - Race Report
Geoff Roes - Race Report

Congratulations to all the finishers. Kudos to RD Julie Fingar, her staff and all the volunteers and spectators. It was my first time and I'm sold. I'm putting my name in the lottery again for next year's race. Congratulations to my carpool buddies Joel Lanz (16th at 4:15) and Brett Rivers (18th at 4:19). It was a very good day for a race and it was a great event.


Joel Lanz, Brett Rivers and Ted Knudsen at registration.

Zach Landman and Mark Tanaka at registration.

Jean Pommier, Pierre-Yves Couteau and Gary Gellin at registration

Ultra Signup's Mark Gilligan extending a warm greeting to Brett as Ted Knudsen looks on.

Race central.

Brett Rivers showing off the new Tamalpa Ultra Racing racing tops. Racing for the Tamalpa Running club this year.

Yours truly and that smile is genuine. I joined Tamalpa as well, more on this later.

Mark Tanaka of La Sportiva. One of the crazier ultra marathoners I know. He's an ER Doc, has two young kids and his race schedule last year would have taken me 3 years to complete.

Kara, Dana and Samantha. I met these guys through the triathlon scene but we now run ultras together. I'm supposed to pace and crew Kara at American River 50-mile. She and Dana will be running their first 50-mile race.

The signature frog cupcakes of WTC 50k.

Quick stop at the Auburn Running Company on our way back to San Francisco. That's Matt Keyes, we met at the 2006 Western States.


  1. step away from the cupcakes...AND NO ONE GETS HURT!...;-)

  2. I run with a pitbull all of the time! He is radder than a hanging out with a greyhound.

    Good write up. I am going to throw my hat into the ring for that race next year. It looks COOL!

    Congrats on the strong race.

  3. Wonderful job, Rick! Glad to hear you had such an enjoyable race. That looks like it was a really fun scene, and your racing season is off to a great start. Much success to you!

    Those cupcakes look awesome! :)

  4. "Pick a gear and keep it turning and smile ya dirty bastard smile" <---haha, I dig this line!

    Know it wasn't your best effort that day, but sounds like you made the best of it and had a blast. Solid day as always Rick. Great write up.

  5. Nice job out there, Rick! Glad to know you were stoked by all the love from us at hwy 49. It was a fun scene, and there were certainly a lot of folks there who were excited to see you! The smile on your face at the time pretty much said it all - a tough day, but you were still enjoying it. Very cool.
    You're so right about "when the mind goes, everything goes." Way to hold it together!

  6. You and the girls = cutest picture EVER!!!! Love that one!

    And don't take this the wrong way, but I told Sam you were like a pug among greyhounds. You are short, and muscular, and just never give up. They have the mechanical advantage of long and lanky, but you have grit and determination! When push comes to shove, you will push through anything that stands in your way.

    Go, Rick, Go!!!

  7. Congratulations! Yeah, the key word is FUN.

    It looked cold after the race since most runners were wearing sweat shirts or jackets. Getting lost - it happens even among top runners. Godo for us slow mortals. :)

  8. Dave: I'm doing well man, did cut down on the sweets. I do like chocolate milk after workouts though but the lighter stuff.

    Evan: Your dog is awesome. Growing up I had a dog that was half pitbull. You would like this race; the competition, the course (hopefully muddy again with lots of stream crossings) and good hanging out afterwards.

    Jean: Thanks Jean, like Evan you are used to cold temps and slippery courses. This would have been a good day for you.

    Billy: What up crazy guy, making up for all those miles you missed. Your solid days of running are back again.

    Dave: Nice new blog. Glad you keep writing.

    Gretchen: I knew to look for you since you told me in advance you were going to be there. I'm sure I missed a lot of folks though. It's all a blur when you are running, you know how that goes. Thanks for the support.

    Jess: Me and our sistas. They are such trail runners now. Thanks for the compliment...I think:) You're so crazy.

    Jon: It was cold before and after. During the run it was a blast and perfect. Finding your way is part of the deal and getting lost happens to the best of us. Live and learn.

  9. Great write-up and pics, Rick! What a great way to start the year. Makes me want to train more.

  10. Gaston! This looks like fun. When is the lottery held? Love your pictures. Way to dig deep. I know all about gambling too early in a race.