Tuesday, May 17, 2011

2011 Miwok 100k- The Recap and Looking Towards a Breakout SD 100

There’s now over a week separating me from the 2011 Miwok 100k and I’ve actually had time to think about what did or didn’t happen out there. First off, it was an absolutely incredible day to be outside running. It was mostly clear along the coast and even with the wind kicking in ferociously in certain spots, it made for a rather enjoyable view of the Pacific Ocean. That said, I didn’t spend too much time looking at the Pacific with the twisting and rapidly shrinking trail along the ridgeline often taking the bulk of my attention.

Don’t get me wrong; Miwok was good about 90% of the time. That percentage will probably go up over time largely due to where this race leads me this year, but for now, I’m comfortable with 90%. Going into this race, I had done quite a bit of work running each section of the course individually and/or part of much longer runs in order to try to find sustainable paces. While I first was thinking about 8:45-8:55 overall as a goal, I really wanted to see how this unfolded in training with each individual section to see if it was sustainable based on current fitness.

I would run the old course to give me a good standard of my current fitness as well as the portions of the course which had changed to give my fitness a context within the 2011 course. The middle 34.2 miles had stayed the exact same while the beginning 16.9 miles and the closing 11.5 miles had been flip-flopped with a more difficult, steep climb up Conzelman Road added to the opening 7 mile loop back to Rodeo Beach. All in all, the outbound/inbound portions registered 33.9 miles (-1.7 miles compared to 2010) and 28.7 miles respectively for a total distance of 62.6 miles. I felt comfortable enough with the runs I had done, the overall and individual section goals, and my knowledge of the terrain on that course by the time race day came around.

In the end, I even ditched the trusty Garmin in favor of a simple stopwatch. The trails that make up the Golden Gate National Recreation Area are often so well marked that you are constantly getting feedback on whether you’re going too fast or too slow. I had splits on a homemade band on my right wrist not only by aid station, but by various key points in between such as the top or bottom of a hill, turn point, geographical feature (like a particular tree) or even a particular trail distance marker. I knew exactly what to expect, when to expect it and how to attack it. Although my homemade pacing band called for a 8:58 finish, I left what I considered to be time buffers on the final ¼ of the race that I thought I had could definitely hit for that 8:50ish finish.

Having endured the cancellation of the Lake Sonoma 50 and having not raced since February 28th, the race start itself couldn’t come soon enough. The one nagging injury that had recently been plaguing me for the past 3 weeks was a calf strain that limited the types and frequency of my running. With most of the hard training in the bag, I worried less about my overall fitness than I did about how the injury would affect my ability to race hard. Still, I was very satisfied after a couple of short, quick runs on the course during the last week before the race that I would, at the very least, be able to maintain a comfortable pace and rythym without causing injury.

Although I’m not one for early race starts, I had plenty of energy for this 5:40 am start and felt calm and relaxed as the Rodeo Beach “Grunion Run” began with nearly 400 runners scurrying the first 150 ft. to make it to the Lagoon trail before the bottleneck began. I had my crew (Wilma, Uncle Andy, Mambo Jose) all set with their aid assignments, a couple of Tylenol already making their way through my system and nothing to worry about except putting one foot in front of the other. Let the race begin.

Start to Tennessee Valley – 11.1 miles - 1.29:00 split

I settled into the race early with Victor Ballesteros, who would later drop, by my side and Nathan Yanko just behind me in the distance. The climb up to the top of Conzelman Rd. has an 18% grade at its steepest, which I thought would be enough early to create separation between the runners up front. However, it seemed all the front runners (13-14) seemed content with allowing the pack to move along at a healthy, solid pace. I continued to sit right behind the lead pack with Scott Jaime and Phil Kochik just ahead of me.

I cruised back across the beach and towards the Rodeo Beach parking lot a minute slower than I expected at 56 minutes flat. At that point, I fully expected to take it easy going up Coastal Trail to the top of the hill (900’+ elevation), so I had built in a little extra time to get to Tennessee Valley. With the course in reverse, we did this extra climb early before heading down to Tennessee Valley rather than a climb up the Rodeo Valley Trail which overall was about 2/3 of the total climbing.

In some previous PCTR races which use this section up to Wolf Ridge and eventually to Tennessee Valley, I had generally timed out at 32-33 minutes at a decent effort which was exactly what I ended up doing this day. At this point, I strolled into TV in 11th position with Scott and Phil right behind me and the rest of lead pack about a minute ahead. I was a minute ahead of schedule, which was just fine by me and fairly consistent with previous training efforts.

Tennessee Valley to Pantoll 20.0 miles - 2.52:00 (1.23:00 split)

At this point, I was fairly comfortable being passed by Scott and Phil since I was continuing to hit my splits for each climb and descent fairly consistently. For me personally, this is where I felt like I had a huge advantage coming in

I knew based on my experience and relative strengths that the top guys would put gaps of time on me on the climbs but that the key to my race would be whether I would be able to hammer the new downhills and flats at the end. I didn’t allow myself to get pulled into anyone else’s race, instead just focusing on getting to each turn and trail sign as I had mapped out on my homemade wrist band.

There are two major climbs in this section: After the initial ~0.3 mile paved downhill on the asphalt, there is a steep 500-600 ft., 1.2 mile climb up Fox Trail. This is followed by 2.2 miles of meandering fire road on the ridgeline towards the Miwok Trail and Hwy 1. I hit the top of the hill in 14+ minutes, the Miwok trail in 20 minutes and Hwy 1 in 32+ minutes at the 2:02 mark which was again 1 minute ahead of when I wanted to be there. While Scott and Phil moved off into the distance and Nathan continued to move well behind me, I kept the focus on getting through each sub-section quickly and efficiently.

After crossing the Hwy and dropping down 2.2 miles back towards sea level at Muir Woods Rd., there is a long 3 mile, 1500 ft. climb to Pantoll Ranger Station. With the introduction of sizable portions of single-track trail and winding uphill fire roads in the lush Muir Woods section of the course, you can’t see too far in front of you like the more open expanses of the first ¼ of the race.

At this point, I really began to feel alone out there with time and space to keep moving at my own pace. Without much of a struggle here in the early going, it was the perfect opportunity to simple focus on the task at hand without pushing too hard on these early climbs. Once again, course knowledge had helped me remain relaxed as I came into Pantoll once again 1 minute ahead of schedule. It was definitely slower than what I was capable of, but very manageable and sustainable with an eye towards keeping my calf discomfort at bay. If I simply kept in motion at a reasonable pace, I could keep turning this into a shorter and shorter race to the finish.

Pantoll to Bolinas Ridge 26.7 miles - 3.49:00 (56:00 split)

After a half a minute to walk out of the aid station and compose myself, it was off along the ridgeline. This is by far the most picturesque portion of the course with the view of the Pacific Ocean unobstructed and a steep drop off to our left. Of course, the trail also narrows considerably which means the eyes are often focused downward. About a quarter of the way through, Nathan came up and passed me from behind. I sent him on his way, just trying to stay within that 8-9 minute per mile range. Eventually I would be passed by one other, but my stride was looking smooth at that point and there was little need to press the pace too hard. I let the momentum take me on the downs and kept the legs moving on the ups. Before I knew it, I was at the aid station, once again 1 minute ahead of schedule. Even though I was pleased with nailing the early splits, I kept a business-like approach and flew right through the aid station after another effortless bottle/supply exchange with my wife Wilma. Socializing could wait until afterwards and apart from a little soreness in my quads and calves, I had a good rhythm going so far and taking the GU Roctanes religiously every 20 minutes seemed to be going well.

Bolinas Ridge to Randall 33.9 miles - 4.44:00 (55:00 split)

Everything about this section is about the anticipation of the quad busting 1100’, less than 2 mile drop down to the turnaround. If you get there in good shape, the downhill is 12-14 minutes of just letting the legs go before hitting the aid station right at Hwy 1 on the way to Point Reyes.

I kept moving along much as I had done in the previous section, stopping only once on a particularly steep portion to walk as a bit of mental break. You start wondering at this point when you’ll see the leaders coming back from the turnaround, but as I made it gate which marks the beginning of the westward downhill jaunt, I still hadn’t seen anyone yet. In fact, I was a bit surprised as the lead pack along with a few stragglers finally started appearing in small groups of 2 to 3 about 10 minutes before I hit the turnaround. Another seemless exchange with Uncle Andy and Uncle Jose to get two new ¾ full water bottles with NUUN got me on my way. At this point, I thought about taking an Aleve to deal with the current soreness in the quads and calves, but decide against it in my hastiness to keep moving.

Randall to Bolinas Ridge 41.1 miles - 5.54:00 (1.10:00 split)

After starting on my way, I took a minute pit stop to take care of nature’s call before continuing on up the hill. In training, I felt like I needed to hit 20 minutes going up the hill to give me a reasonable chance and wrapping this section up in 1:05:00. On my timing schedule, I gave myself 1:08:00 in order to take some of the pressure off to really try and hammer it at this point. Again, I was waiting for the return to Pantoll from Bolinas to try to amp up the effort and pace. With the break and a couple of well-timed power hiking breaks, I hit the top of the hill in 22+ minutes and was off again to Bolinas. I was starting to wear a bit, but I was very pleased that I kept in perpetual motion on the ups and the time seemed to go by quickly. I even got a kick out of Ian Sharman, dressed as Elvis, passing me just before the aid station. I was 1 minute behind schedule into Bolinas, but still knew that if I could get into Pantoll in just under 7 hours, the ability to run the downhills and flats which have been a hallmark of my good races might just help me once again.

Bolinas Ridge to Pantoll 47.8 miles - 7.00:00 (1.06:00 split)

I left Bolinas alone with no one within sight ahead of or behind me. It would eventually stay that way until the final leg of the race, which left me in a bit of deficit for that extra push I felt I needed. I power hiked up a tiny hill to help get my legs going again, but let the momentum get me started on the first downhill down into a wooded abyss before the ridgeline. While I generally enjoy interacting and encouraging the other runners coming outbound, it did seem to take a bit of my steam away when a few people seemed to react to my presence suddenly which caused me to stop on more than a few occasions. This is really the most problematic part of the course as far as runner traffic is concerned with the ridgeline barely big enough for two feet side by side let alone two runners moving in opposite directions.

It quickly became apparent that I would not hit my 1 hour flat goal for this section, but I didn’t panic and tried to keep moving to get in under 7 hours. While I now wish I had added a pacer at Bolinas to help mentally push me out of this mental rut I was falling into, I simply pushed onward with the expectation that a big 3 mile downhill after Pantoll and the addition of my pacer would help kick it into gear. My legs definitely felt a bit heavier, but my energy and stomach continued to cooperate beautifully. I was banking on the momentum out of Pantoll to help return the spring and authority with which I was running with earlier to my legs. A late surge into Pantoll over the final mile only got me in there at 7 hours flat.

Pantoll to Muir Beach 53.5 miles – 7:50:00 (50:00 split)

Still in 16th place, the stop in Pantoll revealed major muscle soreness in quads, but again my mind got lost in thinking about my pacer, Pete, who had gotten caught in traffic as well as trying to screw my head back on straight to make a final push. I spent a minute walking through Pantoll and talking through a couple things with Uncle Andy and Uncle Jose before finally heading out onto the trail. After a slow 9 min/mile pace heading down the trail to start out, I tried to really let loose on the 2.2 mile long Deer Park fire road. I was hoping to catch some momentum to get into Muir Beach a little after 7:40:00. Having run this section as part of training runs, 40 minutes seemed very, very doable when my training runs had clocked it in the mid to upper 30s.

However, the quads didn’t seem to want to cooperate and every downhill stride brought with it a measure of pain. This brought with it the unforunate reaction to slow down and decrease my stride, which made me feel slow and lethargic on a section of the course that seemed to bring out the best in me in 2010 when I felt like I was flying effortlessly. Even the 2.2 mile mostly flat single track before hitting the pavement to Muir beach couldn’t cheer me up even though I could feel myself begin to run with a little more authority. I knew I needed some pain relief and Muir Beach couldn’t come fast enough, even if my average pace still hit 8:40ish/mile for the 5.7 mile section.

Muir Beach to Tennessee Valley 57.6 miles - 8.36:00 (46:00 split)

Once again, another section in 16th place without a soul in sight. I finally picked up my pacer, Pete, who was fresh from navigating some major San Francisco traffic to meet me at Muir Beach. A combination of running and walking helped my body recover after taking an Aleve at Muir Beach. The flats and downhills provided good opportunities to get my legs turning over again and extend my stride. While exiting Pirates Cove and descending into Tennessee Valley, I remember starting to feel stronger again and opening up my stride more and more while ascending the final gradual paved uphill from Tennessee Valley to the parking lot. The Aleve was kicking in and although I lamented not taking it earlier, I felt good going into the final section.

Tennessee Valley to Finish 62.6 miles - 9.20:10 16th place, 8:56/mile pace overall

I made another seemless exchange for fresh handhelds with the uncles and gave my parents a quick wave while ascending the first of the last two climbs up Old Springs trail southward towards the finish at Pt. Bonita. The winds began to kick up in the early afternoon, providing a nice cooling effect. This had to be the part of the race I was most proud of, considering that my goal of sub-9 hours was out of reach. Based on a budgeted 43 minutes for this final section, I refocused and reset my goal for sub-9:20.

A quick glance back at Tennessee Valley about a quarter mile into the climb revealed that I would have company if I didn’t start to kick it into gear. A strong push up the 1.4 mile climb created the separation I needed to leave the man in white out of my rear view mirror. Descending down the Miwok trail on the 8 and ½ minute decent into Rodeo Valley, I finally caught sight of another runner who seemed to be coming closer and closer into view. He seemed to be moving well, but I set him out there as a target to catch to keep me hungry and motivated.

Once across Bunker Road and into the final 0.5 mile, couple hundred foot climb up the single track Coastal Trail, I felt myself closing in on the runner in blue and his pacer with my body responding well to my hunger to pick up the feet faster and faster. Pete encouraged me to keep pushing harder to catch him. With the runner’s pacer looking back at me periodically, about the only thing that kept me from catching him on the climb was the overgrowth of foliage on the narrow trail that kept whacking me and slowing me down. Once on Conzelman Rd., he was no more than 50 ft. in front.

While I tried to hammer on the road and take the shortest line on the road to close the gap, the strong ocean gusts seemed to sap my energy and keep me at bay. The runner’s pacer kept looking back to gauge the gap, but the pursuit became more and more just two guys on treadmills with one treadmill set out just a little further. I kept trying to close but as the end drew near, I couldn’t seem to get closer. The runner in blue, Topher Gaylord, would end up finishing in 9:19:44, 26 seconds before I did in 9:20:10. A valiant way to end the race, in 16th place, just like I left Bolinas when passing a couple runners who stoppped there.

We did a lot of things right, which I think reflected the training and preparation which was supported heavily by Wilma and Uncle Andy among others. The pace overall was very sustainable (even for a longer effort) and the nutrition and electrolytes were spot on. The ability to sustain also leads me to believe that this is something that I could do in a longer race and gives me a wealth of confidence in what I’m putting together for the San Diego 100 in 3.5 weeks.

A couple of key errors I need to respond better to was the discomfort in my quads and pushing myself better when in my own space. The discomfort, in particular, really came into play on the flats and downhills between Pantoll and Tennessee Valley where a strong push through the pain in my quads would have gotten me very, very close to my 9 hour goal. It will be something that I need to respond to better particularly as I move to the 100 mile distance shortly. Getting the right amount of Tylenol or Aleve when I need it will help keep me pushing through all the way to the end. While the effort overall tells me there are great races to come as my calf gets back to 100%, I am thankful to God for the opportunity be out there doing what I do with great friends and family. The preparation helped me to really keep my head clear overall and just enjoy the experience making me hopeful that I can hit a top finish in San Diego to keep the ball rolling in 2011.

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