Monday, March 31, 2008

Next Race

I'm set to run the Chesebro Half Marathon in Agoura Hills, CA, this coming Saturday. I haven't raced a half marathon for such a long time. The last half marathon I did was in 2005. This one is a little hilly as far as road racing goes, taking place on both roads and trails. But, compared to the terrain I've been running on, this course is relatively flat. My climbing legs have been developing and running slight inclines and flats feel pretty much the same. I also have a better power-to-weight ratio than before. I should be able to PR this course if everything goes as planned. But, you never know.

It should be a fun day, as most of the ATB and Pacers are running the race, so I get to hang with friends. It is said that this race has the best after race food and party. I'm looking forward to that.


New Friends, Old Friends

Yesterday, we went on a 10 mile run of the Mt. Zion loop, starting and ending from Chantry Flats. It was so much fun running with a bunch of people from the Arroyo Trail Blazers. An old friend, Laura, came up from San Diego to visit, it was great to see her. And we meet a new friend, Dan. Dan is super fast. Good to meet you, Dan!

It was drizzling when we meet at Grandview and Santa Anita. We decided that we were not going to let a little rain spoil our fun, so we proceeded up to Chantry Flats. As we came up to the parking lot, it started raining much harder. But we were determined to run, rain or shine. What a hard core group of poeple. I changed from shorts to tights and donned arm warmers and gloves, as it was also getting colder.

We set off in the rain. However, as we climbed, we got above the moisture layer for a few miles. It was gorgeous looking down at the mist and looking up at the blue sky trying to come out. It was freezing at the summit of Mt. Zion. Dan was running in front, with me a few steps behind, for almost the whole way up. It was good to have someone pushing the pace, as I run alone most of the time.

Laura and Dan are not frequently runners in these parts of the forest, so they got to see some of our local trails. Laura is the super fit duathlete (cycling and running). She is going to race at the World Championships this year. Dan places top three in his age group in most of the races he enters. He has done numerous 50k's, a few 50 milers, and paced at AC100 last year.

Dan and I lead the way going off Mt. Zion, we flew down those trails. Then, four of us, Dan, me, Antonio, and Laura, attacked the paved hill at the end of the run. I started the hill with an easy pace, for I knew the hill was half a mile and pitched up right at the end. Then Dan took over the lead, with Antonio and Laura in tow. I kept my pace and then slowly reeled in Antonio and then Laura. I got to within 50 feet of Dan, but was never able to catch him. It was fun. A little friendly competition never hurts.

We swapped our wet clothing at the car with dry ones and then went out to breakfast. What a great way to end a great run, with hot food, coffee, and friends.

Happy trails!


Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Updated Race Schedule

I've added some races and took some out of my schedule. Training is going well. I feel really strong right now, so I've added more 50 milers, and I'm doing the San Diego 100 Miler in June to test my fitness.

01/20/08 Calico 50K (3893 ft) - DONE: 5:42:32
02/16/08 Sequoia 50k (5030 ft) - DONE: 5:25:42
03/16/08 Montaña de Oro 50k (6400 ft) - DONE: 5:52:19
04/05/08 Agoura Hills 1/2 Marathon
04/12/08 Old Goats 50 Miles
04/19/08 Leona Divide 50 Miles
05/10/08 PCT 50 Miles
05/17/08 Bishop High Sierra 50 Miles
06/07/08 San Diego 100 Miles
06/21/08 Pacifica 50k
07/19/08 Sequoia 50k
08/09/08 Mt. Disappointment 50 Miles
08/23/08 Bulldog 50k
09/01/08 Mt. Baldy Run to the Top
09/13/08 Angeles Crest 100 Miles
11/16/08 Pasadena Marathon


Monday, March 17, 2008

Montaña De Oro 50k Race Report

Another 50k race? You must be kidding me? I know that's what you are thinking. But I planned in January to do an ultra a month, and, so far, I'm sticking to it. This is my way of getting some good training leading up to AC100 in September. This past weekend, I was near beautiful Morro Bay, CA in the Montaña De Oro State Park. This race location was, by far, the most beautiful place I have ever ran in. With the mountains extending right down to the ocean, the physical geography created a magical blend of coves, cliffs, and sandy beaches. The rugged coastline was breathtaking, especially at the top of Valencia peak. At one point during the race, I almost wanted to stop and enjoy the view :) If you know me, that say a lot about the view.

I left home at 3:00 am on Sunday morning and drove to the race site and got there around 7:00 am. I was the second car there, other than the race volunteers. There were no entrance fees, no parking fees, and no fees of any kind. How can such a beautiful place be free to the public? This is sure a hidden gem of a State Park along the central coast of California. As I got there a little bit early, I took an early morning stroll along the beach and took some pictures.

The race course was a two loop course. The loop climbed Valencia Peak and Hazard Peak; so, for the 50k race, we climbed each peak twice. The trail surface was similar to our So. Cal. dry, hard packed dirt, with occasional sharp rocky sections. One advantage of a looped course is that you learn the loop the first time out; then you know what to expect on the second and finishing loop. The climate was semi-arid, and the hillsides were covered with golden wild flowers and low slung bushes. The "Montaña De Oro" means "Mountain of Gold" in Spanish; and the "Gold" was referring to these golden colored wild flowers that bloom about this time of the year.

A cold weather front moved in a few days before the race; so, on race morning, it was about 40 degrees at the starting line. It warmed up a little bit as the day progressed, but the cold wind coming off the ocean kept things chilly. I always prefer to over-dress than under-dress; so, I wore tights, arm warmers, and gloves.

This was my second PCTR (Pacific Coast Trail Runs) race; and as before, the race atmosphere was very low key and the course well marked. The starting line was staged right on the beach at Spooner's Cove. There can't be a more spectacular starting location; it was fabulous. I lined up in the front this time. As I took off with the front group, I saw Cheryl running along. I meet Cheryl at the Javalina Jundred in 2006. We exchanged greetings and had a few words, then I took off and never saw her again until the finish line. She took third place female overall.

After leaving the beach, the course went on to the Bluff Trail, which winds along the rugged coastline overlooking the water. It was a very enjoyable 3 miles to start the race. As we turned inland and hit the first climb which is up to Valencia Peak, it stated to get warm and I took off the arm warmers and gloves. I felt really strong. I carried two 20 fl. oz. water bottles this time, as the aid stations were about 7-8 miles apart.

This race, my hydration and nutrition worked perfectly. I used NUNN tablets and a homemade mix of maltodextrin, soy protein powder, and ground almonds. Liquid nutrition worked a bit better than solid food. But I still took some boiled potatoes and salt. I'm getting really close to dialing in my exact hydration and nutrition needs.

As I approached the top of Valencia Peak, which was an out-and-back section, I can count the number of people in front of me. I counted about 7, so that leaves me in 8th place. I wanted to stop and take in the spectacular view at the top of the peak, but I was in a race, so I had to go. One of these days, I like to do a race where my goal is to take pictures. The second climb, Hazard Peak, was not as steep; but the downhill was more of a rolling gradual descent. This roller section turned out to be very hard for me at the end of the race. After the first climb, the front pack thinned out quite a bit. I didn't see many people on the second climb and the rest of the loop.

As I started the second loop, I was pretty much alone. I caught one of the guys in front of me going up to Valencia Peak, he was dehydrated and struggled to keep going. He dropped out at the next aid station. Coming off of Valencia Peak, the turn around point, I saw three guys hot on my heels; they were probably about one to two minutes behind. I got a good pace going and flew down Valencia Peak. I still felt good at this point. But when I hit the aid station at Spooner's Cove, I felt the legs tightening up and I knew I had better take it easy for the fourth and final climb. I power walked most of the final climb and at the top of Hazard Peak, I saw no one coming up. I guess I had put more time into the guys behind me. Going down Hazard Peak, I had to resort to run/walk along the gradual rolling descent as my legs were cramping up. I knew I slowed down, but still, no one passed me.

As I came to the beach, I stopped for a moment just short of the finish line. I couldn't find it, it was so well hidden behind some bushes. That was a little amusing. Still, I finished 6th out of 33 overall 50k finishers; 3rd in my AG @5:52:19. The race distance was actually 31.7 miles and 6400 feet of cumulative elevation gain/loss.

I got a hotel room for Sunday night as I knew I didn't want to immediately drive home after the race. I rested for the rest of the afternoon and went to bed early. Monday morning, I felt good considering what I did the day before. I recovered really well, and even felt like going out for a run.

The hotel was in downtown Morro Bay, which is a very quaint commercial fishing village. The cost was $39/night and the location was three blocks from the beach. What a deal! The room also had Wi-Fi, so I worked a little bit in the morning right in the comfort of my bed. Then, I took a stroll along the Embarcadero and took pictures of Morro Bay and the Morro Rock. Then I went to the Farmer's Market in Bayview Park, a neighboring village. In the afternoon, I drove out to Montaña De Oro and did a little sightseeing and picture taking. I hung around the area until sundown because I wanted to take pictures of the sunset at Spooner's Cove. It was fabulous. What a beautiful place to spend a relaxing day in!

It was a wonderful trip. I enjoyed it very much. Until the next adventure, happy trails!


Sunday, March 09, 2008

Chantry Flats to Newcomb's Saddle Run

This was my birthday weekend! Last year, I ran my age in miles around Pasadena's famous Rose Bowl. For this year, I thought about doing 47 laps of the Rose Bowl on my bike - about 146 miles. However, I didn't think my biking legs were at that level yet. Maybe next year! So, I settled for a nice long run from Chantry Flats to Newcomb's Saddle and beyond. The weather was, in true Spring fashion, cool in the morning and very comfortable as it warmed up. And, I got to break in a new pair of shoes.

I got to Chantry Flats about 7:00 am; it was a later start for me, but I still beat most of the hikers to the parking. Since last weekend's run was an epic. I figure that I should just do a nice easy run this week to let my body rest and also be ready for next weekend's 50k race near beautiful Morro Bay.

I proceeded up the Upper Winter Creek trail. At the Hoegees junction I took the Mt. Zion trail and went up and over the Mt. Zion summit. It was a nice little climb about 1,000 feet in 1.5 miles. I thought that I should at least throw in some climbing for the day; as the rest of the day was going to be gradual ascents and descents. Once over the summit of Mt. Zion, the trail descended to Sturtevant Camp.

I was breaking in a new pair of shoes. If anything was wrong with the shoes, I would go back to Chantry from Sturtevant - a short 4.5 more miles. I planned the route that way so I had an option. But, everything went well, no blisters and no toe pinching. They were the New Balance 790's, a super light weight trail racing flat. Watch for a more in-depth review coming soon. Those shoes felt really comfortable; I think I will use them, with a minor adjustment, for next week's 50k race.

I got water at Sturtevant Camp and proceeded up the Gabrillino Trail towards Newcomb's Saddle. Half way up the trail, I saw Hal Winton. Hal, an experienced ultra runner himself, is the perennial trail maintenance guru in these parts of the San Gabriel Mountains. The Mt. Disappointment 50 mile race is named after him. I chatted with Hal for about 45 minutes. Just like that, out in the middle of no where, we talked about everything under the sun. It was nice seeing someone and was a great diversion. Hal drives up from Harbor City almost every weekend to be in the mountains. It makes me feel so privileged to live so close to Chantry Flats. I can be in the Chantry parking lot in under 15 minutes from my house.

Once I got to Newcomb's Saddle, I took a right following the AC race course in reverse. I was planning to just follow the course in reverse and turn back once I got in the mileage I wanted for the day. However, somewhere along the way, I missed a turn. I ended up going along a fireroad, I think it was the Redbox-Rincon Road. But, it doesn't matter, as I was just going out and back.

The run back to Chantry was just nice and easy, following the AC course, except for the part where I took a wrong turn. I got back to the car not feeling tired at all. The run was about 20 miles and took four hours. It felt really easy even with 3,000+ feet of climbing. I am feeling good about where I am relative to the upcoming season.

Happy trails!


Saturday, March 01, 2008

Saturday Training Run - Bailey Canyon to Mt. Wilson Loop

Today, I ran what I call the Bailey Canyon Loop - long version. It was an epic day with three sustained climbs, it totaled about 26 miles and 8,600 feet of elevation gain. I started at Bailey Canyon Park in Sierra Madre and went up to Jones Peak. Then I took the left fork at the Crossover trail sign and climbed up to Hastings Peak. Past the peak, the trail continued up a steep ridge and took me to the Mt. Wilson Toll Road. I then headed up the Toll Road past Mt. Harvard to Mt. Wilson's Skyline Park. Then I went down the Sturtevant Trail behind the observatory to Sturtevant Camp. Past the camp, I followed the Gabrilino Trail along Little Santa Anita Canyon to Chantry Flats. From Chantry, I took the Upper Winter Creek Trail and climbed back up to the Benches. Then I descended the Mt. Wilson Trail down to Orchard Camp. About another senven tenth of a mile past the camp, I went up the unmarked Jones Crossover trail. This trail lead me back to Bailey Canyon Trail, completing the loop. My car was then just at the bottom of the Bailey Canyon Trail.

The day started with me getting to the Bailey Canyon trail head at about 6:15 AM. Upon arrival, I was surprised that the parking lot was almost full. Apparently, there was a boy scout camp-out and they had stayed the night in tents. As the trail went right through where they had set up their camp, I ran past a whole bunch of blurry eyed kids trying to figure out how to eat breakfast. Luckily, they were already awake and I didn't have to sneak around their tents trying not to wake them up.

It was pretty gloomy when I started. The sky was overcast. The marine layer was very thick and even precipitated into a slight drizzle. It wasn't very cold, but I decided to wear arm warmers, which turned out to be a great choice, as the temperature went up and down through out the route. When it got warm, I pulled the arm warmers down; and when it got cold, I kept them up. I love arm warmers! The climb up Bailey Canyon was steep. I had forgotten how steep this thing was, as the last time I went up this trail was about 13 months ago. It climbed 2,400 feet in 3 miles. I was felling very strong, so I ran part of the way up to Jones Peak. The marine layer was so thick that I didn't have a lot of visibility. The cool misty scenery cast a different tone on the mountains and gives you a slightly different perspective on the surroundings.

As I went past the Crossover trail sign, I noticed that the marine layer was starting to clear. Well, actually, it was not clearing, but I was gaining altitude and going above it. As I power hiked up to Hastings Peak, I saw sunshine and crystal blue skies. Suddenly, it got very warm. The 360 degree panorama of the sea of white clouds washing up against the mountain canyons was a sight to behold. Distant peaks poked through the white blanket of heavy moisture and looked like islands. I wished I had brought a camera. Next time, I will!

The trail continued its steep ascent past Hastings Peak and snaked its way along the ridge to end at the Toll Road. These trails are unmarked and nameless. Once I got to the Toll Road, I started running again until the Mt. Wilson Trail junction, where I stopped a bit for a break and ate some food. As I sat down on my favorite rock, I noticed that behind it someone had stashed a gallon of water and a cookie tin with duct tape to seal it. I was tempted to open the tin to see what's inside, but I didn't do it. I thought it would be a good idea to build a locker at that location so that everyone can stash stuff, as it was a very key spot for rest and refueling.

After my brief rest, I continued running up the Toll Road until Mt. Harvard, where the ascent turned off the fireroad and took yet another unmarked trail up to Skyline Park. Up to this point, I had not seen anyone around, hiker or runner. I figure that it was still early and no one was up yet. I got up to Skyline park and refilled my water and electrolytes. On today's run, I had been using a liquid nutrition from Hammer called Perpetuem. I think liquid nutrition is definitely easier to digest. At this point, I had reached the highest elevation on my route, the climb from Bailey Canyon Park up to Skyline Park was about 5,000 feet in 7 miles. Nice!

I saw some people around the observatory; finally, there are people! These long trail runs can really play with your head some times. For a few hours, it felt like I was the only person alive. I went around behind the telescopes and continued down the Sturtevant Trail. All that remained of the heavy snow from a few weeks ago was a few patches here and there. Downhill trail running is my favorite part of the whole ultra running experience. I flew effortlessly down the rock and root strewn path of dirt,
dogging rocks by carefully placing my feet or hopping from boulder to boulder. It was a dance with nature. The trail was my partner, my stride and arm swing was the rhythm, and the sound of wind rushing past my face was the music. It got really cold as I descended back into the marine layer. But I felt great and was going fast, the downhill legs were fresh and the energy high. As I concentrated on the trail, I got into a zone. I was energized mentally and previously cloudy issues became crystal clear in my mind. It was truly therapeutic.

The hikers were out in force as I got near Sturtevant Camp and Chantry Flats. I can tell that many of them don't get out into the woods a lot. I was thinking to myself, "what's the matter with them, don't they know how great the outdoors are?" I guess I'm biased. :) But, at least, they come out once in a while. As I started the climb up to Chantry, I had done 7 miles of downhill running. Now, it was time to climb again. I refilled my hydration a second time at Chantry as some passers by stared at me. For what reason, I don't know. May be I looked like a crazy runner. I power walked the climb up to the benches. This climb shoots up for about 3,000 feet in 6 miles. This is roughly the same climb as in the AC100, where it comes at 75 miles into the 100 mile race.

Once I got up to the benches, I stopped and sat on the benches with some other hikers to share a few moments of the view. I think they spoke Korean so I didn't stay long. Quickly, I headed down the Mt. Wilson Trail into Orchard Camp. That downhill was very steep and technical as my quads got a good workout. As I went beyond Orchard Camp and started up the canyon where the Crossover trail was, I stopped to move some tree branches to block a way that could easily be mistaken as the trail. I head noise behind me, I turned around and it was Carmela. She had started with Andy, but Andy turned back early because he was running the LA Marathon the next day.

Carmela and I then continued on the climb for a little bit, we talked and shared some trail stories. This climb is about 600 feet in 1 mile. So, it was relatively easier than the other two, but it was the third climb and comes at about mile 22. However, I was still feeling good and was powering up the climb at a pretty good pace. Pretty soon, I didn't hear Carmela's footsteps. I turned around and she is way back there. Sorry, Carmela!

As I crested the top, it was all downhill from there to the car. The trail was steep but well groomed, so it made for a relatively easy and fast 3 mile downhill run. I few down the tight switchbacks at about 7:30 pace. It felt great to run the ending miles of a long training run in such good shape and with so much energy. It was cold down at the car, especially with my drizzle drenched shirt. So I drove home right away. I'm sure I will see Carmela again out on the trails.

My total mileage for the day was about 26 miles with 8,600 feet of elevation gain/loss and it took 6 hours and 4 minutes. Not too shabby! I think today was sort of a breakthrough for me, as I have never felt this good after a six hour run in the mountains.