Thursday, May 22, 2008

Bishop High Sierra 50 Mile Race Report

... Leaving Overlook (20 miles), the highest point of the race course, I was set to start my chase. I took off down the hill and caught two guys almost immediately. By the time I got to Bishop Creek Lodge (30 miles), I think I had picked off about 6 guys and LT was just in front of me. I counted the number of people coming back on this out-and-back portion of the course, and I was in about 13th. I kept my pace until about mile 36, then I felt the cumulative fatigue from all the weekend ultras I have been doing. I had no more gas left in the tank. I had to slow down...

I arrived in Bishop on Friday night just before the free pre-race dinner was about to begin. I had heard from past year's participants that the pre-race dinner and raffle was a must-attend event; so, I was looking forward to it. The dinner was held at the Whiskey Creek Restaurant, a very nice establishment, and the food was excellent. LT and Beiyi from the Trail Headz came just before they started the raffle and I was happy to join up with them. The raffle did not disappoint, as most people in attendance won some prizes. LT and I both won some socks, and I also scored a pair of Innov8 shoes. Now I can't say I never win anything. The pre-race dinner was fun as I meet some new people and saw some old familiar faces.

The course didn't look too hard from the elevation profile, but it was much harder than it looked. In past years, some very good runners had not posted very fast times on this course. The higher elevation meant less oxygen, and the very runnable course meant that you actually could have ran the whole 50 miles if you could do so. It gradually climbed for 20 miles for the first part, then 3 miles of downhill, then rolling terrain for 12 miles, and then it went back down to bishop for 15 miles.

For this year, the challenge was enduring the heat, as the course offered very little shade. The weather was HOT, HOT, HOT! It was like running in an oven. The nice aid station people offered to put ice cubes in my bottles, but that just froze my hands and the water turned warm very quickly.

As the gun went off, LT and I started together. Beiyi was still in the restroom and would join the race a little late. I went about two miles and my legs and hips were feeling sore. It was not a good sign, but I was hoping the soreness would go away as I warmed up. I settled into a more relaxed pace than normal for the climb and was feeling pretty good. I got up to Overlook (20 miles), the highest point of the course, and was still feeling okay. The heat nor the altitude was bothering me. LT had gone ahead and was probably about 15 minutes in front.

Leaving Overlook, I was set to start my chase. I took off down the hill and caught two guys almost immediately. By the time I got to Bishop Creek Lodge (30 miles), I think I had picked off about 6 guys and LT was just in front of me. I counted the number of people coming back on this out-and-back portion of the course, and I was in about 13th. I kept my pace until about mile 36, then I felt the cumulative fatigue from all the weekend races I have been doing (6 in 7 weeks). I had no more gas left in the tank. I had to slow down.

I was tired and running the remaining 14 miles of gradual downhill felt like running on the flat. It was very hard for me. I ended up walking for about 4-5 miles to save strength and then ran the rest of the way back to the finish line. It was not one of my better races, but I still had a lot of fun. It was good running with LT for part of the way. He is a very strong runner. I enjoyed the raffle, the food, the outdoors, and the company. It was my pleasure to hang out for dinner with LT and Beiyi after the race.

After a few days of rest, I'm looking forward to the San Diego 100. Last night I was dreaming I was running it. Now, that's an ultraholic. I will get a weekend off from racing over the Memorial day holiday, then I'm doing the Shadow of the Giants 50k and then the SD 100 a week after that. The Shadow 50k will be a tapper race for SD, and I will just enjoy myself and not go for time.

Until the next adventure, happy trails!


Sunday, May 11, 2008

Garmin Forerunner 405 - Update

I put the Garmin Forerunner 405 through yet another grueling test. This time at the PCT50, an epic 50 mile race over some of the most scenic and yet technical and unrelenting single tracks east of San Diego, CA. This course had its share of dense tree cover to test the sensitivity of the GPS and also would push the battery life to its limit.

It was a very hot day with direct sunlight most of the time I was out on the trail. The display never became hard to read. However, towards the end, the bezel stopped responding to my finger touches. I might have been a little dehydrated so my finger tips were a little dead. But, I though, "what if I didn't use my fingers but another part of my body?" So I used my other wrist to touch the bezel, and that worked like a charm.

I charged the battery over night before the race and it lasted 7 hours when it told me I had "low battery." At that point, I had another hour of battery if I kept the GPS portion turned on. The unit would have lasted 8 hours, as advertised. However, my race was going to last more than 8 hours, so I turned off the GPS functions to save power and continued to use the unit as a stop watch.

The trail went through some dense tree cover and I noticed that the pace reading was way too low for how fast I was going. This meant that the GPS was not getting enough signal and the accuracy was lacking. Consequently, at mile 25, it read 23.75. This discrepancy is consistent with my experience with the 301/305. It always reads too low, never too high.

I'm satisfied with how the unit is performing so far; but I just wish that the battery life is a bit longer.


PCT50 Race Report

We drove out from Monrovia at 2:00 am on race morning to make the two and a half hour freeway trek down to San Diego. My carpool mate was Andy Kumeda, we talked almost the whole way down, so the time passed quickly. The starting line was just off the 8 freeway, it was the most convenient ultra race start location I have ever been to. You just get off the freeway, park, and there it was. What more can you ask for! I was filled with anticipation as I looked forward to meeting some new friends in person from the SoCal Trail Headz.

It was still dark when we checked in. The registration table was set up on the shoulder of the highway, and a bunch of cars were already there. It was as if crazed ultra runners just took over the highway; I love it. I saw Jerry Armstrong's trailer and parked next to it; I was looking forward to the prime rib and the post-race party he would host for the tHeadz. Thanks, Jerry; it was great.

After a short nap we got up and got ready for the start. The mountain air was crisp and invigorating. The temperature was in the mid 30's; but I knew it would warm up very quickly. The forecast said partly cloudy skies; but there was not a cloud in sight. The day would turn out to be very warm. I braved the cold and went without arm warmers and gloves. The course was an out-and-back on entirely technical rocky single tracks. Some of the tHeadz recognized me and introduced themselves; thank you very much, Chaz and Eric. Sorry, if I forgot to mention some of your names as there were so many new friends to meet.

Somebody shouted "go", then we were off. After about a mile or so, Akos came charging up to the front; passing everybody. He had started late. I guess better late than never. I settled into a nice pace, a few faster people passed me, including iMichelle, who had also started late. After a few miles, I looked back and I was pulling a pack of 5 runners. I kept a comfortable pace, so I was happy to oblige. We kept going and soon caught up to Keira; then I slowed down, thinking that I might be pushing too hard. The pack behind me noticed that I had slowed and passed me; but I was content to let them go. I wanted to save some energy as I planned to negative split this course. The pack I was pulling included some very good runners.

For some reason, I kept tripping on the rocks as I ran. I have trained on my share of rocky single tracks, and tripping is usually not a problem. I guess I was just not concentrating and mentally unfocused.

At one point I was running with Eric and caught up to Krik, I introduced myself. Kirk looked good! Then, Eric went ahead; and when I saw him as I approached the turn-around, he looked good! I had no idea what was happening to him. I was just one place behind Eric at the turn-around.

At the turn-around (25 miles), I was feeling really good. My legs felt strong and I had no issues. I thought to myself, "now the chase begins." My time at the turn-around was about four and a half hours; so I was on sub 9 hour pace. I kept a very nice running pace back to Penny Pines, about 2 miles. There, I saw Eric, I didn't know he had issues; so I made a very quick stop and went ahead.

I kept running through the undulating course by myself; then, I just didn't feel like pushing anymore. This has never happened to me during a race. I had no reasons to not push, at least not physically; but mentally I just didn't want to. May be racing my fourth ultra, including three 50 milers, in five weeks was catching up to me. Or, may be being alone had something to do with it. I thought to myself, "so what if I caught a few runners going back." I felt that it wasn't worth it to push to get a better time or place higher. This is very uncharacteristic of me, normally I fight until I have no more to give. But, that day, I had no fight.

I needed something or someone to inspire me; but I found none. Running uninspired and alone, I slowed down and walked a lot of the sections I knew I could run. My mind wandered, and I kept tripping on the rocks. This kept going until about 10 miles to go; when I tripped and fell and cut up my right hand. Then I realized I needed to concentrate more. When I started concentrating, I felt better mentally and the miles seemed to go by faster. One positive note, I kept moving and never thought about quitting.

This race was tough, as I learned that mental preparation was just as important as physical. My thanks go out to many of the tHeadz at the aid stations who introduced themselves to me. Beiyi served me food at the finish, thanks. Oh, almost forgot, I saw a huge rattle snake right on the course and almost stepped on it but stopped short.

Next weekend is the Bishop/High Sierra 50 miler. I will use what I learned.

Until the next adventure, happy trails!


Monday, May 05, 2008

Garmin Forerunner 405 - Initial Impressions

I just got the new Garmin Forerunner 405 GPS running watch this past weekend and was able to use it for the 50k race. Right off the bat, the styling and elegant look of this watch made it one slick piece of running equipment. This thing is much smaller than the Forerunner 305/301 and actually looks like a watch rather than the albatross that was strapped to your wrist. Sorry, I just didn't like the size of the older Forerunner models. The fit was excellent around my wrist; the model 301 I had would make my wrist hurt after wearing it about 5 to 6 hours. Okay, I have boney wrists and I don't think most people would have the same problem. However, I was happy that it was very comfortable for me to wear all day.

The 405 seems to do all the things the 305 did and then some. It comes with only two buttons on the right side. The top one is the start/stop/enter button and the bottom one is for exit/quit. The bezel of the watch is a touch sensitive ring that allows you to scroll through the menu with a swipe of the finger and a simple tap to select menu items. This thing is like the ipod of sport watches. It is a joy to use. The bezel can be locked so accidental touches won't mess up the display, just simply press both buttons simultaneous and it locks and unlocks. Have you ever struggled to turn on the back light in the dark; well, on this watch, just simply touch two fingers on the bezel and the backlight toggles on and off - very slick. To enter the four modes, just touch and hold at the four designated and labeled areas on the bezel.

The 405 also doesn't have an "off" button. Now, it just goes into a power save mode in which the GPS portions goes to sleep to save battery and the unit functions pretty much like a regular watch.

The 405 now have up to 20 hours of recording capacity. It automatically stores routes and your run data to be downloaded to your computer wirelessly. That's right, wireless. And since it is wireless, now you can transfer route information from unit to unit. Can you imagine showing up for a new run and you get a download of the route straight to your watch? We just might never get lost on the trails again. One major bummer, however, is that Mac support won't be available until the Fall. Luckily, I have an Intel Mac and is able to run Windows through Bootcamp. If you have a G4 or G5 Mac, you are out of luck.

The display is smaller than the 301, and each of three screens only displays 3 fields. The 301 displayed four fields, but I was never able to really make use of the extra fields anyway. I usually just care about my pace, distance, and time when I run. If you do use three fields, the digits on the bottom fields are a little small and was a bit hard to read on the run. The battery lasted only 6 hours on my first full charge but the manual said it would last 8 hours. However, I didn't charge it overnight. I think the GPS receiver sensitivity is also better than the 301/305; I was able to receive satellite signals indoors at the bottom floor of my two story house. I have only done one run with this watch, more comprehensive observations will come in a later review.

Happy trails!


Sunday, May 04, 2008

Wild Wild West 50K Race Report

The occasional but persistent wind was rustling the tent as I slept lightly through the night. I tossed and turned in my sleeping bag as I tried to get some good sleep, but could not. I had gone to bed just before dusk, at around 8:00 pm, in anticipation of a 3:30 am wake up time. The race was to kick off about a mile away from my campsite at 6:00 am, and I wanted to have plenty of time to make coffee, eat, and get over to the starting line. This was going to become one of my more memorable races...

I made the trip alone and drove the 4 hours from my house to Lone Pine, CA, on Friday afternoon for the Saturday morning race. Lone Pine is famous for being the gateway to Mt. Whitney, the highest point of the continental United States. And, if you are a movie buff, you will recognize the Alabama Hills, in which many Western movies were shot. One of the roads on the course was called, you guess it, "Movie Road." If you frequent Mammoth Lakes, CA, from So. Cal. you will also recognize Lone Pine as a way point along Hwy 395.

The Wild Wild West Marathon is the third oldest trail marathon in the United States; in recent years, they added the 50k, which shares almost the entire Marathon course plus an extra loop. The very non-technical course was from point to point, starting at the Tuttle Creek Campground and ending in Lone Pine Park, just at the North end of town. The net elevation loss was a boon to those who like to run downhill; the climbs, which happened mostly in the beginning 7-8 miles, were gradual and entirely runnable. Some parts of the course were covered with soft sand and made the going a little tougher; but, I didn't think it was too bad. The 5+ mile run down Hogback Road, which was all downhill on a perfectly groomed dirt road, was a nice reprieve after the climbs. My favorite part of the course was the section through the Alabama Hills. Those oblong rock formations were extremely interesting and I would have loved to spend an entire day there to explore the area; it was definitely an outdoor photographer's paradise.

I got into Lone Pine just before 5:00 pm and picked up my race bib and goodie bag and proceeded up to the campsite. I erected my tent and unpacked the car and went for a walk to look for the starting line. The wind was starting to really pick up; I heard the people in town say that it had been very windy during the week. I found out that the starting line was about a mile away from my campsite; so, I decided to drive to the starting line in the morning because I didn't want to walk that far in the cold morning air. Plus, it was nice to have a car near the start to sit in to stay warm until just before the horn went off.

I woke up as scheduled, made my coffee, and went through my pre-race routine. My camping stove didn't work for some reason; luckily, I had a spare, or else I would not have been able to have coffee. I broke camp and packed up the car in the dark and drove over to the starting line at about 5:15 am. When I got there, no one was directing parking or anything; so, I sat in the car until some race staff showed up at 5:30 am. When I finally stepped out of the car, the temperature had risen considerably; so, I knew that it would get hot very quickly. There was no wind, the temperature was about 48 degrees and would warm up into the high 70's. There was not a cloud in the sky, we were about to enjoy a gorgeous day in the mountains with blue skies and snow capped Mt. Whitney in the back ground. I had on a sleeveless full zippered jersey, shorts, lots of SPF 45, and my trail racing flats. The sun-exposed course would offer absolutely no shade from the UV radiation.

At the starting area, where we congregated, there was not much fanfare. No banners, no tents, no mats, and not even a line was drawn in the dirt. I guess, after putting on the race for so many year, they figured out how to get it the simplest they can. I think they had a hand held blast horn and that's it. Some racer dragged his feet across the sandy dirt and made a line. I didn't see many of the So. Cal. ultra regulars. I guess this was more of the first time ultra crowd; I talked to many of them and most seemed to be doing their first 50k after completing a marathon.

The horn sounded and off goes a group of charging runners. The 10 mile, 15 mile, marathon, and 50k races all started together. I figure the front runners were probably the 10 milers and didn't care to chase them down. I kept to a steady pace and remembered to keep drinking and took care not to eat too much at the beginning. I think I'm beginning to learn how to pace and have more consistent race results. One thing good about this race is that the aid stations were about 2-3 miles apart; however, I still carried a hand bottle and skipped aid stations to save time. The climb from the starting line was on a consistent gradual grade with loose sand in many spots. We had a mile of downhill at about mile 2 for a bit of a break and kept climbing until mile 8 to the highest point of the course. My pace would vary according to the steepness of the grade; but I tried to kept my energy exertion at the same level. I kept from putting out bursts of acceleration, as that's a waste of energy.

I caught up to a 50k runner at about 6 miles into the climb. I found out later that his name was Ray. Ray and I would end up 5th and 6th overall and we would pass each other back and forth all the way to the finish. The 10 milers and 15 milers had split off at about mile 8 and now we were pretty much alone. I think I saw very few runners, except for Ray, until the last few miles or so when the slower marathoners were finishing up. Ray is faster than me on the downhill, but I was faster on the uphill. I was first to reach the top and started the descent down Hogback, Ray then passed me at about two miles into the downhill. Later I passed him on Moffat Road, a section of 5 miles or so of rolling uphill. We ended up right together at mile 20, where the 50k course split from the marathon.

Ray was behind me as we came up the initial climbs

Ray and I ran together until mile 24, when we caught up to another 50ker, (Doug, as I later found out). Doug, Ray, and I were running together in a close pack; and it turned out that we were 1st place, 2nd place, and 3rd place in our age group. There we were, battling it out at mile 24 with about 10k to go; this was the most competitive race I've yet to have. Ray skipped an aid station and surged ahead of Doug. I got right behind Doug but was never able to pass him. I was beginning to tire and trailed Ray and Doug about a 100 feet. I kept them close until we rejoined the marathon course at about mile 27, at which point they disappeared behind the rolling hills. It was hard to keep chasing when you don't see the "rabbit." I never saw them again until the finish line. It turned out that Doug passed Ray back, and Ray only finished about 30 seconds in front of me. The last few miles of rolling downhill into Lone Pine was very hard as I was fighting fatigue, but mentally I was strong and kept pushing as hard as I could have.

I was very content with the race I had; as I ran almost the whole way, with very little walking. It was a good consistent effort, and a great training day as I'm trying to dial in my pacing skills. I have to say something about the course markers. They seemed to get more scarce as the course went on; I got off course three times! I'm normally pretty good at following ribbons, but they used yellow ribbons which didn't stand out much among a sea of yellow wild flowers. Why did they use yellow, go figure; you would think they'd have this figured out after so many years. Anyway, my GPS read 31.93 miles at the finish; I definitely ran some extra mileage. But I'm still happy, as I ended up 6th overall, 3rd in my AG, and PR'd by over 20 minutes with a course time of 5:04:46.

As I finished early, I took the shuttle back to get my car at the starting line, washed up, and then went back to Lone Pine for the award ceremony. I saw Gary Hilliard, Gabor, and Steve and Annie Harvey. Gary did the 10 miler, Gabor, Annie and Steve did the 50k. It was good to see some people I knew.

Until the next adventure, happy trails!

UPDATE: It has been almost a week since the race and the results haven't been posted. It don't know what's holding it up. Most other races I do posts their results one or two days after, or at the most three days. So, if you plan to do this race in the future, figure that you are gonna have to wait to see the full results.