Saturday, October 29, 2011

Season's End

I opened last week's optimistic post by looking forward to my taper into the Antelope 100K in a couple weeks, but then Monday came and my ankle remained painful and swollen. Des and I carefully worked the ice/heat treatments but I felt virtually no relief and our thoughts turned to stress fractures instead of tendonitis or strains. Although I'd scheduled a PT session to work on the ankle for that morning, early Tuesday I stopped in at St. Marys Urgent Care facility to get an X-ray. Any PT worth a damn would likely refuse to work on something with swelling without having a better look first; and John and crew at Manual Therapy know what they're doing so into the waiting rooms I went.

When the results came in, sure enough, I carry a nice vertical fracture at the base of the fibula, just above the lateral melleolus (the ankle bone on the right side). And now I have a nice new boot to keep things immobilized until I can get into my osteopathic specialist and get further evaluation (Nov 4th).

So I come to Season's End about two weeks ahead of schedule and a bit short of my goal of going after the Antelope 100K.  I sadly let Jim Skaggs, the race director, know that I'd miss the event; I was too late for any refunds or credits but healing is more important right now. It's a transition I really wasn't prepared for, but in all likelihood is well-needed and well-deserved.  I surpassed just about every intermediate goal I set for myself in May when I started hitting the trails (running from something, maybe, but hopefully it's toward something) in earnest. I remember being intimidated by certain weeks on my training schedule, only to find that I relished each challenge and that I shifted my perspective of what I considered a "long" run as the season progressed.  I found success at my first trail events - Burton Creek Half-Marathon, Lake of the Sky ("50K"), and Dick Collins Firetrails 50. In between, I cheered elite runners and back-of-the-packers at Western States 100 and Leadville Trail 100, getting glimpses of what it takes and observing the how-to's of  moving forward in the big events. It's been great fun, hard work, and so enjoyable to run with new friends and feel the rush of competition in beautiful places. I'm not sure I understood what ultrarunning really meant when I hit the trail, but now, especially when forced to sit it out with an injury, my picture is clearer. Of course, I still can't explain what keeps any of us going, but I can't wait to get back out there, to enjoy, to challenge, and to search. I'll keep going.

With that in mind, Trail Option will shift in a slightly new direction. Of course, my weekly summaries and trail compilations will cease for a while as I begin a slow and careful recovery. For the next few months, I will share news of my recovery progress and general off-season training. I will also continue to provide news of the entire Young Mountain Runners Team as we move into 2012.  Dennis and Mary have the Moab Trail Half-Marathon coming next week, and we look forward to great results from their day on the slickrock! Darren looks to be headed back to the Buffalo Run in late March; I'll be healing up and working to join him. Des continues to groom Strider for their first trail efforts; I'm thinking some ride-and-tie events are in our future (of course, that means I have to ride, so maybe we find another format!).

Trail Option and the Young Mountain Runners are fortunate to have the coaching skills of Footfeathers to guide us into 2012. He coached  Darren to his first 100-finish in 2011 and has become a friend, competitor, and comrade-in-trails to each of us. He's the new Race Director for Pacific Coast Trail Runs ( and a McDavid Ultra Runner who finished five 100-mile events in 2011, including the torturous Hardrock, 15th place at Leadville, and a 1st place at Grand Mesa, Colorado, along with competitive finishes in a number of other ultra events. Footfeathers has already sent me a personalized list of questions regarding my goals for the coming year so that he can set up a comprehensive (mind and body) training regime that fits my growth as an ultrarunner.

Although I have to be patient and let the healing process do its goodness, I'm very excited about running with the YMR team into the new season. It's What We Do. 

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Week Summary (Oct 23) - Can I get an ankle removed?

Meadow View OB: 7.0 mi (+198 ft); 9:37 pace
Mt. Davidson Ridge OB: 7.7 mi (+1,466 ft); 12:23 pace
VC to Lakeview: 25.0 mi (+2,811 ft); 11:51 pace
Mexican Dam OB: 14.1 mi (+587 ft); 10:25 pace

Weekly Totals: 53.8 mi (+5,062 ft); 10:05:53 on trail

All in all I had a fantastic week of training and feel ready to begin the taper to the Antelope 100K in two weeks (Nov 5).  I feel fully recovered from Firetrails with one significant exception - my right ankle. It seems to be limited to some minor to moderately painful tendonitis, and Des has helped me keep it from flaring and each day seems an incremental improvement, at least until I put some miles on it. The taper should help as long as I can keep the massage and ice/heat therapy schedule each day.

I started the week with fieldwork in northeastern California, and our Tuesday work plan put us at Meadow View Campground just west of Doyle, California. Once we set camp I took a stroll along outback roads in Meadow View and Last Chance valleys. The ankle hurt some but I kept it level with a moderate pace through the out-and-back run. At the turn-around I ran into a husband-wife hunting couple asking about bears, I told them other than the one I had wrestled and was running from, I hadn't seen any.  Darkness was falling as they drove away, but only after talk had turned to the three mountain lions they'd seen recently (not today) back at Meadow View. Last week's encounter with the eyes hung in my mind as I ran into the dark, and now they'd reminded me of a rather dense local presence.  I expect cat encounters are like lightning strikes - rare but potentially life-altering if one is lucky enough to be unlucky. I'd love to see one, but not up too close.

Virginia City (my home) from Sun Mountain
With the fieldtrip over, I returned home Thursday to find the sunset calling for a run on the ridge to Mt. Davidson (Sun Mtn) which rises west of my home in Virginia City. Wednesday's scheduled rest and the miles of walking while in the field seemed to help the ankle and I felt no pain for the first time in a run since Firetrails.  The conditions were perfect as I reached the Mt. Davidson summit (7,864 ft) and Des joined me on Ophir Grade to catch the fading light, red to purple clouds, and a hint of Venus above Lake Tahoe.

The lack of ankle pain did not keep me from icing after Thursday's effort and I entered the weekend B2B with some trepidation, though I really wanted to chase the ridgeline from VC to Hobart Lake. I still look forward to connecting my VC trails with the TRT via Lakeview and Hobart Road. I knew the planned 24 miles wouldn't quite get me to the small lake because I needed to turn around and catch a ride with Des who was working with the horses at Washoe Lake.  But this would give me a chance to scout the route while testing the ankle on some longer mileage.

The aspens of McClellan Peak
I left at 8 am, just as the steam locomotive began its trip to its dump-side depot down at Carson City. I climbed Ophir Grade as it made its way past Gold Hill and into American Flat. At the Jumbo-Ophir intersection I met Marta and Lily; they had gotten a headstart on the grade. Together we began the steep climb to the wonderful, flaming-yellow aspen grove on the northern side of McClellan peak. We pushed further west before I dropped to Goni Road and she turned back for her half-marathon distance. I began the long descent and soon the ankle began its quiet, attention-seeking barking. It wasn't too bad, but there was enough pain for me to reconsider the 24-mile goal.  But it simply kept mildly steady, somewhat aggravating but not enough to stop.  I stepped carefully as I began to push through the unexpected steep ups-and-downs  between Goni and Highway 395.  Forward progress was frustrated by a private property boundary on the final climb before the highway.  I was just short of a paved road, but couldn't connect due to locked gates. I turned back to trace a direct path toward Washoe Lake State Park, a side-road that I knew would get me to pavement though I'd now be well short of my planned turn-around on Hobart Road.

Washoe Lake from Hobart Road (Sun Mtn high in the background)
As I hit the pavement, Des drove up! A nice coincidence as she headed to work the horses; a minute sooner and we wouldn't have seen each other for a couple more hours. She stopped to see how the ankle was feeling and then I followed the pavement to the Highway underpass and entered the Lakeview subdivision. Here the climbing toward the Tahoe rim began in earnest and I walked much of the lower pavement on Hobart Road. When the road hits the lower (non-residential) treeline a gate with trail access leads to the first, unpaved switchback toward Hobart. The unpaved surface rejuvenated me and I ran some sections of the steep road. I hit 19 miles at a swift-running creek where I knew I had to turn back to avoid overdoing the first half of the weekend's B2B.  I was soon back at the pavement and worked a slow-to-moderate pace taking the paved roads all the way to the ranch. I hit 25 miles as I arrived at Des's parked truck; just under my target of 5:00:00. After helping Des with some photos we returned home to start the ice.  Would I have 14 miles in me for Sunday?

Mexican Dam on the Carson River
The ankle was stiff on Sunday morning but not terribly painful so I felt motivated to finish the back-to-back runs of the most demanding, non-racing weekend of the RFP training schedule. I kept it flat along the groomed trails of the Carson River and Silver Saddle Ranch and pushed through Mexican Dam to explore the south side of Prison Hill (I've been wanting to loop the hill since early runs last winter). Although I started slow, I was soon rolling along with only the ankle keeping me in check. It was never overwhelming but got slightly more aggravating as the miles passed. I happily managed to get to 14 miles in just under my target of 2:30:00; two nice days in the B2B. Tonight the ankle feels no worse than it did this morning so I'm optimistic about the healing during the coming taper.

I passed 1,000 miles for the season this week and successfully completed the most non-race mileage of any week on my schedule. As long as I continue to carefully treat the ankle, I'm ready for the 100K at Antelope Island.

In other news, Darren's been taking a season's-end rest period but we are already planning for our over-winter regime to prepare for the possibilities of an early season 100-miler as Darren returns to the Buffalo Run and I consider joining him there for a first effort.

Dennis and Mary are closing their season with a pair of half-marathons. Last weekend they hit the roads at Moab, Utah, to complete the first of the two. Mom gained a place on the podium with 3rd place in her age category! Dad cruised to 7th in his group as the two of them crossed the line together.  They focused on their very successful run-walk style and it paid off with high finishes. They now move on to a trail half-marathon to end the season with similar style and success. They'll be running again in Moab as I do a couple loops at Antelope.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Week Summary (Oct 16) - Recovery and Eyes in the Dark

Chocolate Factory OB: 6.1 mi (+421 ft); 10:08 pace
Rocky Road Loop: 4.0 mi (+391 ft); 9:46 pace
Ophir Grade OB: 6.3 mi (+1,013 ft); 10:16 pace
Town Loop 5: 5.2 mi (+615 ft); 10:21 pace

Weekly Totals: 21.6 mi (+2,439 ft); 3:39:07 on trail

Seemed like a week of forever as I recovered from the fun of Firetrails 50.  Almost completely pain-free by Tuesday when I hit the Chocolate Factory for a sluggish six miles; it was slow but the movement felt good. It felt good except for the growing pain in the lateral side of my right ankle. Seems a bit of tendonitis had set in and was along for the ride. I subdued the pain and encouraged healing with Des' magic (or logic) of heat/ice cycles each evening.

Wednesday's schedule called for four miles so I hit Rocky Road for a little tour.  It's cooling nicely in the evenings so Tephra can chase along.  A new "no trespassing" sign stumped me at the stagecoach rides parking lot, so I had to detour to H Street before heading home. Not a big deal, but we don't need too many of those around here. Maybe it's mostly for tourists so I'll have to ask if I can use the short road to get to my trail.

Ankle really fought painfully through Thursday's downhills of the Ophir Grade where I've recently begun to increase my descending pace. Not this time.  I carefully stepped through the last few miles of the six and began to worry a little bit.  You see, that morning I'd signed up for the Antelope 100K  (Antelope Island near Salt Lake City, Utah) and I really want success there to mark the closing of my first wonderful season.

I have to take it easy and heal, so I skipped a Saturday run for the first time in my RFP program (20 weeks in a row).  It was only supposed to be 14 miles, but I really missed even that short time on the trail.  I focused on continuing the heat/ice treatment and it does seem to be having a good effect.  Things will be ok.

Due to some fieldwork commitments on Sunday, I decided to get up early and test things for five miles looping around town. It was interesting to hit the trail with a headlamp and get some night (er, morning) dark-sky running in. There's a chill in the air now and the clouds suggested an early-morning rain was possible.  I took it easy to care for the ankle, and it went smoothly with only a hint of pain. That relief was set aside as I noticed a pair of wide-set eyes patiently and intently reflecting the beam of my headlamp. Two unmoving yellow orbs in the dark.  Tephra was between me and the steady orbs, her dog eyes presenting a similar color but with very different, close-set canine position. I'd imagine our neighborly coyotes would be jumpy and teasing at the company of my dog, testing her to run along and join 'em for some "fun". These steady eyes merely watched focusing on my lamp and simply noting that a meager dog accompanied me. Mountain lion seems almost certain, but I never believe any cat stories unless someone mentions the "tail"; sightings always involve amazement at the tail. I only have eyes, still burning into mine, so I'll never be sure.

I proceeded with a gruff, confident voice calling Tephra to my side and focused on the trail away from the perch of the eyes. I kept the lamp focused in their direction until far enough down the trail to feel some sense of distance. No wonder I didn't notice my ankle.  Good times.

I will pick it up this coming week heading toward my last big training weekend, paying attention to the ankle as I carefully prepare for Antelope.  I'm a little sad that my goal of 100 miles isn't in the cards, but 100 kilometers will bring the satisfaction of a wonderful rookie season and keep the increments in fine order for future success.  The 62 miles will be a challenge and, when met well, satisfaction enough.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Firetrails 50 - Race Report

121st: 10:34:04

Men 1st : Dave Mackey of Novato, California – 6:34:26
Women 1st : Roxanne Woodhouse of Weaverville , California – 8:00:15

We gathered in the spotlight glow of a few check-in tables at the Pine Grove picnic area for the start of the Firetrails 50. Just before 6:30 AM, Julie Finegar, the new co-RD along with Mark Gilligan, herded us onto the dark, paved trail on the east shore of Lake Chabot. A few headlamps highlighted white-capped runners and feet shuffled in the chill as Julie counted down to the start. Months of preparation now in the past, the group of 220 runners surged forward, I patted my brother Darren on the back as we joined in competition for the first time.  I would see him once in the next ten and a half hours.

My strategy was to keep steady and easy for the duration, hoping I'd have a little left in the tank for some of the overall downhill on the way back to Lake Chabot. The eastern sky brightened as we climbed from the lake to the first "liquids only" aid station at Marciel Road (3.2 mi).  I didn't stop although I only carried a single bottle and planned for two to three gels between each aid station; the stations are nicely spaced and well-staffed along the route. I was a little ahead of time at Marciel due to the flat start and pack mentality that gets things moving. Things spread out at the first small climbs.  In the cool of the morning, I was happy to have my "arm warmers" which were actually my extra pair of McDavid compression calf-sleeves; my black pair would save my legs, while the nicely versatile white pair would warm my arms in the chill of the early morning.

I started my routine of  one gel (I prefer GU, but provided Clif brand worked well today) at each half-hour mark and stuck to it all day. I arrived at the first full aid-station at Bort Meadows about ten minutes ahead of my projected splits, the first eight miles slipping by rather quickly. We were climbing a little over two miles on a ridge on the MacDonald Trail, a smooth fire road nicely dampened by the recent rains. It was warming up so I popped a S-Cap (sodium), restocked my gels, and filled my water bottle. As we ran, small clouds of fog where clearing from the valleys and promising a perfect day for the Firetrails.

Descending to Big Bear I was now 15 minutes ahead of schedule and feeling like I really wasn't pushing too hard at all. Just before the 10.5-mile aid station, after descending a steep and rough downhill (that'll be fun later) we began our single trail adventure. Damp trails and close-in brush were nicely cool after the more open ridge.  A rocking boombox greeted us and the welcoming volunteers urgently met our needs. I'd start a habit of a couple potato bites and a S-Cap, two little cups of electrolyte drink (GU Brew, I think), checking the gel count, and topping off my one hand-held bottle. The routine would stay basically and successfully the same all day.

Things got a bit interesting soon after leaving Big Bear.  I turned a corner to see a stopped runner, a cloud of steam rising from his head in the backlight of the rising sun. He was pulling on a mask and saying something about bees. As soon as I passed him a dark little cloud swirled above the trail. Ouch! Damn! Run away! I sprinted down the single-track running into others who were pulling off shirts and waving hats. I was stung seven times in the swarm, and once about a half-mile later by a hanger-on exploring my shorts. Immediately thereafter, as I scratched and searched for extraneous bees, I ran for a while with Drew Beesing who actually didn't get stung at all! (I was very careful later when I ran with Dan Sharkattack).  But the pain of the stings was lessened by the beautiful paths and fern-lined single track to the Skyline Gate aid station (15 miles). I was still nicely ahead of schedule and feeling really good.

I heard some complaints about the bees from various runners, but only a few were very vocal.  Some were simply worried about allergic reactions, a significant concern to be sure. Although I was popped eight times, and can still feel them today (Monday), it seems only another obstacle to be overcome in an event covering 50 miles of varying terrain and environment. No one could have predicted that the early runners would stir up the swarm.  I hope everyone managed to get through without any bad and race-altering reactions, and I'll add it to my list of external forces that might impinge on an otherwise perfect day. Hey, it made me quicken my pace twice!

After Skyline the good climbs began. Some wooded sections of ups-and-down and I quickly arrived at Sibley aid-station (18.4 miles).  A bit foolishly and ahead on my splits by over 15 minutes, I started thinking that my goal of a 10-hour finish might be in reach. But I'd lose that advantage over the next two hours, exposed by the middle section climbs and the only real teeth of the Firetrails. A couple speedsters in the Golden Hills Trail Marathon (doing the same course but only the in-bound section) passed me right after Sibley.  And then there was Dave Mackey floating down the single-track (tough climbs, no problem), I cheered him as a passed headed for his third first-place finish exactly four hours ahead of me!

Just before the Steam Trains aid-station (21.7 miles) the trail got busy with the marathoners. There was almost a constant chatter of "good job", "nice run", etc. as the participants crossed paths. All the kindness could get a little distracting, especially on the steeper, root-laced sections above Grizzly Peak Blvd.  But I wasn't moving too fast on the climbs and it's good to see so many giving it a go.

The steep drop to the turn-around at Lone Oak/Tilden (26 miles) really took it out of me. I need to improve on the downhills. I would catch and pass people, even at my walking pace on the ups, but would be caught and dropped on the downs. My memory of the IT pain at Lake of the Sky probably leads to my conservative approach.  I wasn't really hurting on this descent, but I could feel the uncertainty in my legs growing with each switchback. Nevertheless, I reached Lone Oak at exactly five hours; I was on-target but had the biggest climb of the day ahead of me.

Darren had passed me about three miles before the turn-around, my descent only slightly faster than his climb. He looked good and I figured I'd passed about twenty or so since seeing Mackey so I was sure he'd score a good finish. It was a highlight to see him moving upward.

At the turn-around I had a drop-bag waiting with a new bottle of Nuun electrolyte drink and sunglasses.  I didn't need to change shoes as the Wildcats were performing perfectly.  I also grabbed changed from my Eclipse Running T-shirt to a singlet and added my Eclipse hat, I was ready for the afternoon. The climb out was steep but didn't seem as long as I expected so I felt I was making good progress and not expending too much energy. But when I reached Sibley again (33.6 miles) I was almost a half-hour over my projections; my exact finish time would reflect the subtle demons of this 15-mile section of climbs and descents.

On the climbs from the turn-around and throughout the afternoon I was mostly alone, only occasionally matching up with a runner or two for a short section. I felt steady and could see I was mostly just above an 11 minute/mile pace. The breaks at aid-stations were never too long and it is simply rejuvenating to stop for a moment grab a coke and a few other things and feel the encouragement of the assisting volunteers.  The Firetrails can be proud of that group of people. My only critique would be a few items in surprisingly short supply from Sibley on in; possibly due to the combination of marathoners and ultras hitting the stations hard on the in-bound. Although I didn't suffer from any of the shortfalls, I noticed that the stations were completely out of soda (coke, sprite, or whatever) and gels were also missing. Gels every half-hour are critical to my success, I believe and this worried me a little. At Sibley, the station was in a bit of a bind, no sodas, no gels; although all other items were plentiful and handy. When told there were no more gels, I simply said "you gotta be kidding." I didn't really mean it as a complaint, it was just making me think harder than I wanted to just then.  But then one of the volunteers came over from their car and handed me a couple from their personal stash. All of the Sibley staff where dressed as super-heroes, but this was an unadorned angel. Thanks, whoever you are.

I cruised on, seeing friends from Reno at the Skyline station (37 miles) where pacers could join in the fun. Not sure what a pacer might bring to a 50-miler, and though it might be nice to run with a friend, I think I prefer the solitude of the endeavor with the occasional, fleeting camaraderie of other racers.  Although short on soda and gels, Skyline had noodle soup that has never tasted so good.  I'd grab more soup at Big Bear, a nice addition near the end of the effort.

Now that we'd passed through the stations with S's (Steam, Sibley, and Skyline), now came the B's, er, bees. I'd have to dig deep and get past them to reach Big Bear and Bort.  But, to everyone's relief (I'm sure), a small re-route with tons of flagging and a precisely placed fallen tree, kept the bees away from the returning runners.  I got in the brief sprint without any stings, and I'd completely forgotten about the steep climb out of Big Bear (41.5 miles).  It was steep, but yet again, this seemed shorter than expected.

After the climb I tried to stay consistent, but it grew more difficult to keep pace on the rolling climbs. I was happy with how I was feeling, but was afraid to push when I probably could have.  A few other runners, those that I'd come to know in the little cluster within a few minutes around me, were having a hard time. Puking became a slightly more common sight. I've yet to experience any stomach or digestion issues while training or racing. It was that suffering group, a couple would pass me in the end, who could have really used  some soda at the last stations. After Bort Meadows (44.1 miles), I linked up with Eric Rescorla and we'd yo-yo our way to the finish encouraging each other as we inched our way along. Gels returned at the Bass Cove, pirate-staffed aid station (45.5 miles) so I grabbed a few for the last miles, better safe than sorry. After a brief little climb from the station we descended to the lake and eventually gained the paved bike trail. The bike trail around Lake Chabot seemed forever, and as soon as I crossed the dam, my Garmin told me I'd hit 50 miles. Knowing that the finish was close, I decided to reach deep and finish this great day in style. I encouraged Eric to go and kicked it in to my only sub-8 pace of the day! Somebody yelled, "Go man, only 100 yards!" But I couldn't see anything familiar or something that looked like a finish line. A few people appeared and then I burst into a grassy yard and a 90-degree turn to a finish shoot and the big clock. I could hear some nice cheers and Darren whooping it up.  10:34:04, back where it started.  Nice.

Darren reeled in a 50-mile best at 8:13:25 for 25th place. Some cramps slowed him down in a few spots, but he thinks he left a little bit out there. Great run bro, proud to chase you.

We hung around the picnic area congratulating our new friends, those people you seem to group-up with as we yo-yo along the course; catching some, dropping others, re-grouping at aid-stations to start again. The post-race food hit the spot, though we added a pizza later at the hotel. The swag bags were generous and I was almost teary-eyed as I was handed my first "finishers" award, a nice Patagonia pull-over. The race T's were also simply adorned (i.e., not tattoo'ed with various logos) Patagonia garments. With only a few glitches, Julie and Mike put on a great event, carrying on the good reputation of the Firetrails in their first year as directors. A few key items may have been missing from the otherwise fantastic, well-staffed aid-stations and, though scary to some, the bees were an unfortunate addition, I can say I will use this as the benchmark of how a successful event should be experienced.

Thanks to Julie and Mike and all the great volunteers, especially the GU-angel at Sibley. Thanks to Darren for taking one more step with me; we are going to 100 now! (metric first!) Thanks to Tim Long for pointing me to McDavid compression gear. Thanks also to Chuck at Eclipse Running, I'm proud to fly the flag for Reno's best running store. A special cheer for the early winter-like rainstorm that freshened up the trails and cooled the air for a great Saturday.

Gear: La Sportiva Wildcats, Eclipse T and singlet, McDavid travel bag, compression sleeves, and "arm warmers", Patagonia 9-trails shorts, Injinji socks, Garmin 310XT, Ultimate hand-held bottle, Oakley shades, 2 Nuun electrolyte tabs, 18 gels (various GU and Clif flavors), 12 Succeed Caplets, and two fast-acting Tylenol.

Reno-area notables (congrats for bringing it from Nevada):
Jennifer Benna - 2nd Women/22nd OA 8:09:00
John Trent - 50th 9:17:56
Chris Guintoli - 151st 11:35:19
Stephen Capel - 157th 11:45:56
Tommy Gallagher - 174th 12:14:45
Al Maestes - 186th 12:39:26

Week Summary (Oct 9) - Feeding the Firetrails

West Wendover Trails: 5.4 mi (+532 ft); 9:19 pace
Office Loop: 3.5 mi (+497 ft); 9:09 pace
Dick Collins Firetrails 50: 50.2 mi (+8,741 ft); 12:38 pace

Weekly Totals: 59.1 mi (+9,770 ft); 11:56:36 on trail

An exceptional week highlighted by success at the Dick Collins Firetrails 50 along the East Bay Skyline National Trail above Oakland, California.

The taper week began with fieldwork in western Utah near Wendover, Nevada. Although we were rained-out late on Tuesday morning, the sun broke through for an afternoon run on the West Wendover Trails. Maybe a bit surprising for the casino-town of Wendover, these looping trails are well-kept with a nice trailhead parking and rest area. The wide, perfectly graveled trails wind onto some abandoned shorelines of pluvial Lake Bonneville, northwest of the Wendover strip.  There are loops of one, three, and five miles (approximately) that are signed with large trail markers. The signage is rather overdone for such a small park-like group of trails, but it is certainly a local well-done and well-maintained project. I kept the pace easy and enjoyed a breezy hour away from the hotel.

Taking it easy in preparation for the weekend, Wednesday was a rest-day, which was good because I spent the day driving home from Wendover in an early winter-like storm. Snow capped the higher peaks across northern Nevada. Thursday morning brought snow to the Comstock. Nothing stayed too long, but it meant my first seasonal run through a foggy snow squall.  A distinct chill reminded me of my early training last winter.

Unlike my previous taper, this week was painless and restful (no day-long wood-tossing cross-training!). I have been very happy with my preparation for the weekend; I distinctly remember a twinge of doubt when I added Firetrails to my schedule, now I simply can't wait.  Darren and I will be sporting the new running T's and singlets from Eclipse Running in Reno.  Happy for the support from Chuck and all the running staff of our local, long-time road and trail headquarters.

Darren and I left in the late afternoon Friday for Castro Valley near Lake Chabot, Saturday's start/finish line. Although the usual east-bound traffic from California was a mess, we had an easy drive west-bound on Highway 80 into the Bay Area. Stopped the Yota at the Quality Inn, just a few miles down the hill from our start.

Up at 4:30 AM to start the fueling and get to the Pine Cove picnic area. We arrived in the pre-dawn darkness and parked on the street among a growing line of runners' cars.  Headlamps bobbed through the trees as we searched out the glow of the check-in tables. There we met several over-caffeinated volunteers and grabbed our bibs (#252 and #253); the starting line was the only spot I would be ahead (one place) of my speedy brother. We decided to pay the park fee and move the Yota closer to the picnic area. Once organized we turned in our drop-bags (available at the 25-mile turn-around) and made our way to the starting line on the paved bike-path east of the picnic area. We'd begin in the dark at 6:30 AM, a few of the runners sported headlamps, but the growing pre-dawn twilight was just enough to follow the wide trail. As I felt a twinge of a cool shiver, Julie Fingar, the Race Director, wished us well and set us off. Our Firetrails had begun.

The Dick Collins Firetrails 50 has been held 29 times, including this year. It's a well-organized event with evenly spaced aid stations along a varied track of fire roads, redwood grove park paths, oak and then fern-lined single-track, and a lake looping bike path.  This year the event was blessed by a preparatory rainstorm, two days prior, that dampened the roads and trails and cooled the hills. Although some places were soggy and a bit rutted, the vast majority of the track was in perfect running condition. Warm exposed hillsides, with splendid Bay Area views and an airshow with the Blue Angels (!) were followed by the damp darkness of redwood enclosures. I didn't expect this variability and relative seclusion this close to the Oakland metropolis.

I've prepared a detailed race-report, so I will simply say that although I lack the experience to compare events, I greatly enjoyed running my first 50-miler at Firetrails. It was a worthy challenge and I think both Darren and I are happy to have prepared for it and run it well.  Darren reached a 50-mile PR with a finish at 8:13:25 for 25th place overall (OA) and 11th in the 40-49 category. Although I had fantasies of finishing under 10 hours, I learned that, although in reach someday soon, that was indeed fantasy or, more likely, simply unrealistic for my second ultra. I hit all of my aid-station splits on the way out, but a couple of the bigger hills on the in-bound took their toll (my Garmin showed over 8,700 feet of climbing, but Darren's showed closer to 8,000; course description says 7,800 feet gain). I happily finished at 10:34:04 in 121st position (220 started, 193 finished), 51st in the 40-49 category . Simply and completely happy with my effort and result. Of course, I know I can better it with more experience and a better foundation. But, damn that was fun. And I qualified for the Western States 100, if that becomes important sometime soon.

We hung around the picnic area congratulating our new friends, those people you seem to group-up with as you yo-yo along the course; catching some, dropping others, re-grouping at aid-stations to start again. The post-race food hit the spot, though we added a pizza later at the hotel. The swag bags were generous and I was almost teary-eyed as I was handed my first "finishers" award, a nice Patagonia pull-over. The race T's were also simply adorned Patagonia garments.

And now it hurts. We were back in Reno and VC a little after noon on Sunday. Uncoiling from the drive, every movement in the afternoon and evening was a painful reminder of the excellent Saturday. I iced up as much as possible, but my ankles were swollen and my ITs ached with every step. I'd experienced little discomfort during the event, unlike the terminal miles at Lake of the Sky, but, this time, the post-race recovery was dramatically more painful though only slightly crippling. By this morning (Monday), the pace of recovery has increased and there may be a run tomorrow afterall!

I'm re-thinking my Relentless Forward Progress regime slightly. It's not a response to any defeat or injury, simply a realization that progress might be better in a step-wise fashion; I'm adding another step toward my first 100.  Well, it'll be 100, but I'm going metric first. In his book, Bryon presented this as a good possibility. The 100s that present themselves at the end of the RFP training schedule are significant efforts, Chimera has 22,000 feet of climbing. After Firetrails, I think it would be wise to reinforce the foundation a bit more prior to biting into something like that. I can't imagine having to turn-around and re-do Firetrails (plus some climbs!) at this stage. I'm moving forward, but keeping it in perspective.  How 'bout the Antelope Island 100K in a month?! Let's keep going...


Sunday, October 2, 2011

Week Summary (Oct 2) - Workload Darkness

Cemetery 5 OB: 5.1 mi (+459 ft); 9:12 pace
Rocky Road Loop: 4.0 mi (+414 ft); 9:15 pace
Ophir Grade OB: 7.2 mi (+1,055 ft); 9:23 pace
TRT - Big Meadow to Echo Summit: 18.0 mi (+3,411 ft); 17:10 pace
Emma Quarry OB: 15.2 mi (+1,644 ft); 9:42 pace

Weekly Totals: 41.0 mi (+5,876 ft); 8:48:55 on trail

The TRT/PCT on the Upper Truckee River
It was one of those weeks were every task was more difficult or time-consuming that it needed to be, and the schedule was at overload. The travel requirements of the the coming week created a log-jam of tasks this week. The pace and short-attention spans necessary to keep things moving exposed problems that I'd normally be able to calmly consider and solve. That doesn't work well after two 17-hour days in the office. On the good side, I maintained and counted on my run schedule.  It forced breaks in the chaos and re-focused the occasionally misplaced priority.

For the first time in a while, this was a local week.  Visited the home-bound trails around the VC Cemetery, the Rocky Road Loop (part of my favorite Emma Quarry short run), and Ophir Grade. I had a slight taper this week working into Firetrails, at least I think that's the purpose of RFP Week 18.  A few of the runs were shorter than usual, so that made me come up with new versions of my home-bound trails.  I worked some "speed" in on Thursday; I think I need to do that more often or in better quality that I currently do. Pushing the work-out on occasion should allow continued growth in strength and endurance.

Marta, south of Big Meadow
The workload continued into Saturday with a Resource Advisory Council meeting in Reno. These quarterly meetings are important for me to keep a pulse on BLM activities and to have some input regarding cultural resources and a multitude of other things. But it cut into my Saturday long day!  So when it wrapped up sometime after noon, I jumped in the Yota and jammed south to meet Marta in Carson City so we could shuttle to the end-points of the Tahoe Rim Trail - Big Meadow to Echo Summit segment. We left the Yota at Echo Summit and backpedaled to Big Meadow to hit the trail at about 3 PM for the 15-mile run.

South of Big Meadow the trail is easy to follow, as long as you pay attention at a few of the intersections, but the volcanic terrain can be gravelly and the trail is a dirt slog in a few places. Early on it made me think this segment might be a low-light on the overall trail.  That was soon to change.

This was Marta's first long effort in many years and she was excited to get a point-to-point segment on the TRT.  And her dog Lily, a border collie rescue, was getting her first run on the long trail. The early climbs and gravelly trail, plus Lily's distractions with the hikers, forced us to re-think our run strategy.  I was ready to go at a slow pace and enjoy the miles, but I was concerned about darkness and it took some patient running and enjoying the scenery.  I was a little surprised at the challenge of altering my pace to run with a friend after so many solo outings. I certainly had no problems with Marta's pace, she was working toward her own overall goal.  And our task today, shortened by my morning distractions, was to get her to that goal.

However, when we realized our pace was about 3.5 miles an hour we reconsidered.  I would go ahead to the seven mile point to complete an out-and-back 14 (as scheduled) and I would meet her on my in-bound where she could start her return. Soon after we initiated that plan (at Round Lake), the trail revealed its TRT glory. It became a wonderful flat to slightly rolling, perfect single track into the valley of the Upper Truckee River. Turning north at the river, you join the PCT and head toward Echo.  The evening sun-angle highlighted all the detail of the early-fall colors of the high valley (upper photo).
 A summer survivor

I turned back at 7.0 but was barely a half-mile on the return when I ran into Lily and Marta; the wonderful trail and carried them forward. So it was back to the original plan! We could turn back for the 7 or so miles to Big Meadow or continue the 8 or so miles to Echo Summit. We had an hour-and-a half of light, so either way we might have a slightly dark finish, so let's get to the goal. The climb out of the Truckee River is fantastic. After Showers Lake it's a granite and volcanic landscape of outcrops, snow-filled gullies (yes, it's still there!), and a broad sweeping climb with open views. Perfect.  I'd move ahead for a ways and wait for just a short while at any trail intersections or cool views.  We moved steadily on until Marta began to really feel the miles and the slight chill of evening at 9,000 feet.  We were on our descent when she decided she needed to slow for the finish. She asked for my headlamp and implied that I should go on.

The Upper Truckee, toward Lake Tahoe (before dark!)
I went ahead for a mile or so, but as darkness crept in I thought better of letting her walk it on her own and turned back. In the intervening minutes, Lily had left the trail and gotten lost.  I could hear Marta calling and soon saw the headlamp pacing the trail in the twilight.  After several tense moments, maybe a half-hour, we heard Lily whimpering from above. She was fine but was having trouble navigating the boulders to regain the trail.  Eventually all was good and she was leashed to keep us together in the growing darkness.

The final three miles were in the dark of the forest, but the calm walk was peaceful.  Having run this last section of the trail in the past, the walk was much longer than I expected. I thought ahead to times when I'll be in the dark on lonely trails trying to get through the night and to the finish of a 100-miler somewhere. I'm looking forward to that challenge.  We found the Yota a little after 8 PM and all was well. Marta reached her goal and the segment is hers; these longer runs will seem normal to her sometime soon.

Up Sunday prepping for fieldwork in Utah.  Because I'd ended with 18 miles last night (added 3 miles to the segment during detours), I hit the trail for 6 this morning, enjoying a slow pace on the Emma Quarry trail.  I was scheduled for a 14-10 back-to-back weekend, but the workload and darkness had conspired against the plan. And that's fine.  I reached my weekend and weekly target and feel good for the this week's taper.

On to Firetrails...

September Totals - Ready for Firetrails

September Totals: 187.1 mi (+22,875 ft); 34:54:37 on trail

Good trails led to the first Ultra at Lake of the Sky. An interesting cycle of challenging runs, week-day maintenance, building then taper to an event. Firetrails 50 next weekend!