Thursday, March 24, 2011

Chuckanut 50K: Time in the woods.

The Chuckanut 50K was held this past Saturday in Bellingham, WA. The field was stacked for both the men and women and neither side disappointed with some stellar results.  Both the men's and women's course records fell, with Geoff Roes and Ellie Greenwood crushing the previous course records.  The course was a bit sloppy up top, but overall not bad; there is enough gravel road/trail on the course that even a muddy year isn't going to be that bad, as the mud sections aren't that long and are restricted to sections of the ridge line.  Other portions drain pretty well, so while the course was slower than normal, the beautiful conditions--bluebird skies and pleasant temps--made for a near perfect day for running.
Start of the Chuckanut 50K. Some major names on that line. Yowzer. And then there's me staring blankly at Glenn (click photo to enlarge). All photos by Glenn Tachiyama.
I was a bit anxious going into Chuckanut, and my stomach has been off for weeks, both of which combined for a fairly miserable day for me, at times. Overall, the end result wasn't terrible--about 10-15 minutes slower than I had hoped for, so not abysmal, but not great.  I was shooting for 4:40, and finished in 5th in 4:52.  I hoped to be top 5, really hoping to crack top 3, but had no illusions of being truly competitive. Some might call that a negative attitude; I like to call it realistic. I'm guessing most people would have predicted that Ellie would run away with it, and she did, with 2nd place a good 20 minutes back. I  had hoped to be more in the mix for spots 2-3, but I really suffered from about mile 6-16, and once I finally got into the groove, the race was over.  I've never run a super fast 50K, and for the first race leading into a series of races for me, it was an OK effort.  Hopefully someday, I'll run a 50K that feels like I've laid it all out there, but it certainly wasn't this one.
No crashes!  A 0 crash day. Is that a good thing or a
bad thing?  Upright = cautious? Upright = Coordination?

My main issues were stomach-related, and this blog post might sound a bit focused on that, but my thoughts during much of the race revolved around when and where to make a pit stop.  I wasn't thinking, "Oh, look at the view," or "I should really focus on powering up this hill," but rather, "If I pass up that big tree, how long until I see another suitably-sized tree?"  Pre-race I was in a revolving line for the bathroom, and would have been happy to stay in that revolving line another 30 minutes, but the race start beckoned.  The first 6 miles felt flat and slightly too fast--kind of like racing a road 15K.  I worried what the transition to the hills would bring, and worried that I was going to be spending valuable time off-trail.

I should have stopped to use the pretty little bathroom at the mile 6 aid station, but didn't.  I then spent the next 10 miles trying to decide whether I needed to stop or not.  I would start feeling like something unpleasant was about to happen, and slow down.  Slowing down made things settle a bit, and the whole process would begin again.  Start to speed up a bit, have pangs of issues, and then slow down.  This section included some long gradual climbing, which I would normally try to run, but I found myself hiking more than I would have liked. The woods finally beckoned loudly and I stopped around mile 16.  The result was that I could actually run again without issue.

Life was definitely better after stopping, although I had to make another stop at mile 25, deciding not to pass by the pretty little bathroom that I had passed by at mile 6.  The last 6 miles are fairly public, and the thought of an emergency stop on a well-used bike path wasn't pretty.  It all worked out for the best, because as I exited the bathroom, Sara Wagner, who had been in front of me and in 5th place passed by me in the aid station. Apparently she had missed the turn off of the gravel road, and had to back-track about a quarter mile.  Seeing her there motivated me to stick close, and I soon passed her and just kept moving.  If there was any redeeming portion of the race, it was the last 6 miles.  I was cruising, relatively speaking, and moved up about 10 places in the final 6 miles.  I felt pretty strong for the first time all day.  If only there'd been a few more miles....

I appear to be running up Chinscraper.
Looks can be deceiving.
So, this report reads as a  summary of a couple of bathroom stops, but seriously, I didn't think about much else during the run. Well, I thought about how insanely unrealistic my goals for future races are and how they need to be reshaped to better match reality, but I've happily gone back to my unrealistic goals post-race.  Not every race is a good one, and 50Ks are not my favorite distance nor what I would call my strength. 5th place in a 50K does not mean that I suck.  I'll be back to run a stronger race on another day, hopefully one of which coincides with my racing schedule.  Hopefully I'll figure out my stomach issues over the coming weeks so as to not have 75% of my racing thoughts focused on tree diameter. Ovearll, an OK day race-wise. I'll call it a building block for things to come.

Chuckanut is a race I'd recommend and one I'll return to, as it has a little something for everyone--fast flats, good climbs and descents, and technical sections that keep you hopping. The start/finish makes for a fun festive atmosphere, and Krissy and crew put on a fun post-race gathering. The beautiful sunny day, which many of us in the PNW hadn't seen since October, and won't see again until July, was an added bonus.  The post-race gathering continued on to a local brewery, and quite possibly the best part of the day was when we happened upon a local foot massage parlor open until 11 p.m. Score! Out of a group of 7, only Aaron and I ventured in, but the foot massage made what had turned out to be a pretty good day even better, and I woke up with absolutely no soreness and ready to jump back into training for the Lake Sonoma 50 miler, which is now just 10 days away.  So, yes, I'd recommend Chuckanut, and if you go, hit the Boundary Bay Brewery afterwards and follow that up with a trip to Golden Foot Massage (207 East Chestnut Street). 

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

15K PR @ Shamrock Challenge and Other Ramblings....

I'm pretty sure I've never run a 15K before, hence the PR.  A friend asked me publicly on FB if I wanted to run the Shamrock 15K, and being that Sundays are often longer tempo run days for me, I had no good excuse not to run it. In fact it would be the easiest way to get in a tempo run with company--7500 of my closest friends.  And, potentially of greatest influence was the fact that the finishing award was a beer opener, which is something I need more of, so I caved.  I immediately regretted my decision, but I knew that it would be good for me to man up to the challenge of completing a short road race. Another motivating factor for signing up was that I've talked about signing up for some shorter things, but never have the balls to do so (not sure why there are so many male references in this paragraph, but I digress....), so in an attempt to face my fears, registered.

My complete road racing history over the past 15 years: 4 marathons and one 10-miler, which was cancelled mid-race in typical DC-fashion because of a suspicious package alert.  I have completed no distance under a marathon in 15 years, except for the VHTRC women's half marathon, which was my first trail race back in 2006.  That trail race catapulted me into the VHTRC world, and very quickly into ultramarathons, and I haven't raced anything under a 50K since.  The avoidance of short races all goes back to this intense dislike/fear I have for racing, and the shorter the race, the more race-like it seems.  I would opt for a 50-miler over a 15K any day of the week.

On another side note, sine February of this year, I've started using a coach. That has meant a change to my schedule, some minor panic attacks, and an almost complete lack of days off. I decided to try out using a coach for a bit of a shake-up to the schedule, and to up the work load a bit. Also, I thought it might be nice to put the planning aspect into someone else's hands, thus take that stress off of me.  Not that I ever used to really plan my workouts, but my complete lack of planning would often cause pre-race anxiety as to whether I'd trained sufficiently.  I figured if I have a coach and a schedule and follow it, I should be more confident on race day.  Right?  While the other half of me is still wondering if training by feel isn't a better means of staying injury-free, and allowing for sufficient rest to adequately recover and build.  While another side argues that I never really train hard enough, and need to up the intensity if I want to achieve the goals I have for this year. While that other half argues that this will result in a permanent body cast....I digress, again.  So far, I'm sticking to the plan, although I have had a few freak-outs along the way, mostly related to assigned speed work on the track. Tracks bring back memories of dry heaving before high school races from nerves, and are not necessarily happy places.

We've managed to work around my fear and loathing of any distance over 800 meters on a track, so I've been doing more speed work than previously, and more quality days, in general, and only take a day off about every 15 days or so.  Leading into Sunday, I'd had an "easy" week, in that my Thursday workout was only "medium" effort (typically my speed work day), my Wednesday was easy, as opposed to medium, and my Saturday long run was limited to 15 miles, but I'd still run at least 8 miles a day for the previous 14 days, and with Sunday's 15K, I was finishing up a 75 mile week. To high mileage runners, this isn't much, but I've averaged 75 miles/week over the past 6 weeks, which is up a bit from my average, which is typically closer to 65, with highs hitting 80. And a higher percentage of those miles has been at a harder effort.  To sum it up, I've been feeling a bit sluggish overall, although feeling great (and faster) some days. Getting faster is the ultimate goal.

I almost stayed in bed on Sunday, but knew that I'd regret that decision later in the day when I tried to slug out a tempo run alone that I easily could have achieved by 10 a.m. with time for brunch, to boot. Missing brunch is one of the great travesties of ultra running. Brunch is something that is enjoyed late-morning to early afternoon, and for many of us runners, that is the time that we're out running. Don't get me wrong--I love my long runs in the woods. But, I also love brunch--possibly the week's finest meal. So, my motivating factors for dragging myself to a 15K road race were primarily the assurance of time for brunch and a bottle opener.

No major goals for Sunday, except to get to the starting line and endure the misery that is a road race. 9.3 miles is, after all, only 9.3 miles. And while I don't usually feel good until about mile 17, it is a distance that I know I can complete very easily. I wanted to push the pace, and get in a good fast tempo effort, without feeling feeling like I'd really done anything too traumatic.  I do have a race this coming Saturday, for which I'd like to show up ready to put in a respectable showing.  And 2 weeks after that is Lake Sonoma, which is the one I'm really looking forward to.  Again, 50 miles is more my speed.  I fear 15Ks, but 50Ks are pretty short, too. I don't have the leg speed to really hang.

I'd forgotten just how fast road races feel.  The first mile felt like it was an effort to keep pace with the Red Lizard girls I'd kind of latched onto at the start.  We hit the first couple of miles in the mid-6 range, and then started to climb Terwilliger.  The course is a bell shaped curve, with a gradual climb from the start that builds into a steeper climb up Terwilliger, topping off around mile 5 rolling through mile 6, and then downwards to the finish.  I managed to keep it in the low 7s through the steeper part of the climb, and knowing the climb pretty well, was happy to reach the Chart House, after which the worst of the climb is over.  I surprisingly felt really strong on the climb, and passed my Lizard friends and many more. And then it was all up to leg speed on the downhill. I gained ground on the uphill passing a lot of people and not getting passed, but I was neutral (or losing ground) going downhill.  Funny, because I usually consider uphill running to be my weakness and downhill to be my strength.  But the bottom line is that I just don't have a whole lot of leg speed, and I was running downhill with roadies, and not navigating a technical downhill trail. The downhill miles were, at least in part, in the low 6's but I couldn't make up any ground in that section. After a few quick miles downhill, it was over.

Finish time was 1:02:15 (6:41 pace), around 17th overall and 2nd in my age-group.  I was happy with the result, especially knowing that I was running on somewhat tired legs, and the Shamrock course is a tough one.  I run the Terwilliger hill frequently on lunchtime runs, and it's no joke.  It was fun to see a variety of Trail Factor folks out there (kudos to Gary the Vale who ran a super speedy race and reinforced that his offer to do speed work with me is a joke) and fun to be in a very different type of race setting.  In the ultra community I get used to showing up at races where there are just a hundred or so runners, so it was fun to see 30,000+ downtown for the various races (5K, 8K and 15K).

I wore my Montrail Rogue Racers, which are technically a trail shoe, but a lightweight one that performs really well on roads.  I will definitely wear these shoes on either road or trail.  They are a very flexible shoe, which is one of the things I like about them, and make them a great road shoe alternative.

Will I try out another scary short race this year?  Probably so. Will I run a road race as a goal or focus race?  Probably not, but shorter road races are a great way to challenge myself and get in a quality speed workout, while working through my confidence issues around racing.  And, they are finished in time to enjoy brunch.

Post race brunch with running buddies: omelette with bacon and goat cheese, and cheddar cheese grits accompanied by a bloody mary.  Definitely worth it!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Pictures from a typical weekend in Oregon.

Weekends tend to exhaust me, and I deserved to suffer a bit today, after a fun, action-packed weekend exploring Oregon.  Saturday started off with a snowy run up Eagle Creek with a rotating group of friends.  People just kept showing up, and the run got better and better.  Even more so once we escaped snowy Eagle Creek, and discovered what is now my favorite Gorge waterfall, Wahclella Falls. Saturday's run was followed by Sunday's snowshoeing excursion near Sisters, at Upper Three Creeks Sno Park. 10 hours of activity over the weekend should always be topped off by good beer and conversation (we won't get into my theory on the directional flow of rivers here....) at a local brewery, which we accomplished at Three Creeks Brewery. Continue right into the week with a 5:45 a.m. Monday morning run with Ronda in Forest Park, and it makes for a groggy Monday. Here are a few photos from the weekend's outings: 

Tunnel Falls.  Always a favorite.  This time a bit slicker than normal with a new little rockslide (to the right) and some ice (the trail ventures behind the falls).
En route back to the car we ran into Chris, Darla and Maeve.  They helped turn what might have ended up as a 13-miler back at the car, into a 23 miler and the discovery of my new favorite spot in the Gorge.
The canyon leading up to my new favorite falls: Wahclella Falls.  The falls are located one mile off of the 400 Connector Trail, 3 miles west of the Eagle Creek parking lot.  I don't run the 400 much, but the section near Eagle Creek is much nicer than the sections I've run near Multnomah, and worthy of further exploration.....
The picture doesn't do it justice, but this is Wahclella Falls. The canyon leading up to it is an awesome little canyon with great diversity in falls, great light and lots of brilliant greens.  A pleasant surprise on our little out-and-back from Eagle Creek to add on some miles.
The snowshoeing gang.  Me, Sean and Justin.  It took us about 4 1/2 hours to cover a 12 miles.  Ugh.  It only felt like a couple of hours though--fun times!  Another bluebird day snowshoeing near Sisters.

Help!  I'm being attacked by a giant flying hairball. 
Oregon Team Montrail posing with our matching Dion snowshoes.  They rock!  
Check out those shades!  This is what happens when you forget to bring along an appropriate pair, yet are fortunate enough to store a lot of crap in your car. You'd be amazed what you can find in Bridget (my car), including these classy shades.  These will definitely see action in an ultra, soon.  

And the best part of the day---Marionberry pie from Sisters Bakery.  Yum!  (Snowshoeing pictures were taken by Justin, for the most part.)