Ventura Marathon’s Half Race Report 2015

Updated 8:10am.
Updated 9/25/2015 5:41pm.

I originally signed up for the Ventura Marathon to join my nephew on his first 26.2 run. But after my nephew got injured and my lackluster training post-Bulldog 50k/25k I decided to drop down to do the half marathon.

To get ready for the half I hit the roads again but my muscles and breath asked “where’s the steep stuff and the nice power walk breaks?”  Unfortunately that question came up again during my race.

With the Ray Miller 50k coming up in November, I could have approached the half as purely a long run and left it at that. With a wicked heatwave the week before the race I had even more incentive to treat it that way. But I had some friends from high school come up to run the half as well. My former classmates, many of whom were on the Pasadena High School football team have a running group that’s called the Dawgpack.  I was a trainer for the football team my Junior year and then I often covered the games during my Senior year for the school newspaper so I had been through the trenches with some of the Dawgpack.

I got together with about half of the Dawgpack that came up to run and we had an interesting dinner (long wait and seating in left field) at a nearby Italian restaurant to do some carbo loading. It was great catching up with the group.

Hanging out with the Dawgpack at Seaward Beach in Ventura

Hanging out with the Dawgpack at Seaward Beach in Ventura

Race Day

I was up at 4a.m. and took down a pb&j with coffee to get things moving. I headed off nice and early to make sure I got parking in the main parking area to avoid extra limping around after the race. I wasn’t sure where the finish line or starting line were so I looked around until I found them then stood by to catch the start of the full marathon which was 30 minutes before the half race.

Start of full marathon

Start of full marathon

As the full marathon was on its way, I made my way back towards a bathroom. The Crowne Plaza is very accommodating when it comes to people using its facilities so a big thanks to them. Saved me a long port-o-potty wait. I’ve organized a lot of events at the Crowne Plaza before so I don’t forget about them.

Before I knew it I had to go back up on the pier and get ready for the race. My Nike+ Sportswatch was misbehaving and wouldn’t connect to my heart rate monitor so I was fumbling around and didn’t get to take any shots from the half’s starting line. I decided to just turn off the heart rate feature and that did the trick. My music was all set as well. I carried my iPhone 6+ in a large baggie because I knew it would get hot out there and I didn’t want to fry the phone.

The morning was fairly cool and it was still pretty dark when the race started but the skies were clear. Once the sun came out things would get hot in a hurry.

Miles 0-5

I started on a steady pace that would have led to a PR but that plan started to fizzle around mile 2. I didn’t feel bad during this stretch but after around mile 3 I had to start taking short walk breaks. These walk breaks got a bit longer and longer. By mile 3 the sun was breaking but there was still some nice shade from the large trees lining the fields to our left. At this point I wasn’t too far behind the 2:30 pace group but by mile 5 the 2:45 pace group passed me.

Miles 6-11

My run to walk turned into a walk to run strategy. I’d run for 100 feet then slow down and I felt pretty winded and a bit light-headed. Around 7 miles in I took my third GU gel and didn’t sip water quick enough and felt nauseous. I thought I might toss my cookies around McGrath Park then the thought that I helped push to keep the park open a few years ago when it was in danger of closing and that helped things settle down in my stomach.

The course is an out and back so I could see all of the Dawgpack come back towards me and I could see their times based on their proximity to the pacers. I cheered them all on and that was fun. I finally hit the turnaround at mile 7 and was now running towards the start and could see the Los Padres Mountains. I still felt pretty blah but the not hot yet sunshine and the mountains put me in a very blissed out state. Even though I wouldn’t be anywhere near a PR I felt good that I was out there getting it done. Plus, there were still a lot of speedy people out there because the fast marathoners were zipping by on their way to Boston Marathon qualifying times.

I thought about how long the journey has taken to get to this point where I could go out and run a half marathon even after a short and shabby training cycle. There was also a group of five of us who were leapfrogging each other in our run walk cycles and that helped keep me engaged in the race aspect.

Miles 12-Finish

The last few miles didn’t last too long but I was a little thrown off because my watch had me at half a mile beyond what course marking had listed. I kept making plans to hit a solid run for the last two miles to finish strong but that plan continued until it was half a mile to the finish then I was able to finish strong. I think one full marathoner even raced me a bit at the end because he thought I was in the full marathon.

I didn’t mention it earlier but all the volunteers on the course were great. I never passed by an opportunity to high five a volunteer or someone cheering and each fist bump game me a jolt of energy. I had plenty of water and poured half of it over myself throughout the race. It was indeed a hot morning but the water-cooling effect helped out quite a bit. As I got towards the finish line I saw one runner cramping up big time and another was on the floor being attended to. It was a flat course but the run back was hot and didn’t have all the cover from the early morning.

I was pretty sure that all of the Dawgpack had already finished at least 2o minutes before I did so I just took down some watermelon, water and bananas and chilled for a bit. There was no crazy vision problems after this race so that was good. I took my time and considered cooling my legs in the ocean but wasn’t up for dealing with a car full of sand so I headed for the nearby In-N-Out to grab a large drink and fries to replenish some salt and get my sugar up. I saw one of the Dawgpack members back out there already doing his shakeout run. That’s dedication! Good job, Damon!

Final Thoughts

I could be hard on myself and just think about how this was my slowest road half marathon race but I feel pretty good that I got it done and finished with a big smile. This was a great training run to get me back onto more speed training to help me better negotiate the Ray Miller 50k distance. Completing a 50k run this year is still my goal and I have at least one more chance at it. Time to keep on with the training!

Tale of the Tape

Official time: 03:19:11 for the half marathon. (Just as my Strava data shows, the half was actually a half mile longer than it should have been and the official times were adjusted. I just noticed this on 9/25. My chip time was 3:09.14 and gun time was 3:10:08.)

Strava data (I forgot to turn off my GPS watch right away. I already had watermelon in hand when I did.)

Did you run the Ventura Marathon races? How did it go? Have any other races you’re thinking of doing? Let me know here on the comments or on Facebook.

Finish Line of Ventura Marathon Half

Finish Line of Ventura Marathon Half

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Bulldog Ultra 2015 Race Report

After my flameout at Leona Divide and my partial redemption at the XTERRA Malibu Creek 22k I got up the courage to try a long shot – the Bulldog 50k trail race in Agoura Hills.

I say it was a “long shot” because the race has a four hour cutoff after the first 25k-ish loop then cutoffs at each following aid station. Last year I ran the Bulldog 25k just over four hours so I’d have to not only improve my time but still have enough gas in the tank to do a second loop on a very challenging course.

Things were also busy at work and at home so I had to be super strategic with my training. I had to be so strategic that it would either help me get to the second loop and take me to the finish line or it would blow up. My strategy was to not run as much and focus more on elevation gain that would challenge me mentally which is what I would need to complete the second loop.

Besides doing the XTERRA race which is 90% the same course as the Bulldog 25k race, I also went back to do more training runs at Malibu Creek State Park in the hot afternoon sun for heat training and to build time on feet. In July I climbed over 12,400 ft vertical gain and leading up to the race I had climbed an extra 6,700 feet in August which includes a two week taper.

Race Day

Leading up to the race I thought of dropping down to the 25k and make it more of an enjoyable day but the last day to do that had already passed so I would either have to do it on race day or just not do the second loop if I happened to make the cutoff. I decided to just run the 50k race and see what happened.

Malibu Creek State Park is a great treasure and has beautiful trails. But with hundreds of runners and friends the parking lot fills up pretty quickly so I volunteered via the Bulldog Facebook group to pick folks up from the nearby shopping area. I picked up two runners who were doing their first ultra, Jynelle and Beatrice. We met at the Starbucks which opens nice and early and there were a lot of other runners there hanging out, some of them were there for the 25k race which started an hour after the 50k race.

We got to the park and picked up our bibs and t-shirts and went straight for the bathroom line. While in line, I heard some runners talking about who would win the race and one voice mentioned that there were going to be a lot of strong runners out there. I think the “voice” ended up coming in second and there were a lot of strong runners out there.

After taking care of business I looked around for some of my Facebook buddies. As I was pinning on my bib, I chatted with a couple of people and one woman mentioned that she was there to support her son. Later on as I walked around I saw Chris who I had met at last year’s run approach the woman, he was the son. I connected with Chis on Facebook so it was cool chatting with him and seeing him run his first ultra.

Starting line of Bulldog 50k

Starting line of Bulldog 50k

Bulldog 50K Starting Line

Bulldog 50K Starting Line -2

It was time to get to the starting line and Nancy the race director gave us her pep talk about following the rules to keep everyone safe. Last year I lined up at the far back of the group and couldn’t hear anything so I got up closer this time. A little before the final countdown I saw Marty Barrios and he gave me a wave. I was looking for him earlier but that was the first time I had seen him there.

Miles 0-4

I took off a little faster than on other starts. By the time I hit the mile marker there were still some folks behind me but when the climbs started I went into power hike mode. By the time I passed the M*A*S*H site there didn’t seem to be a whole lot of people behind me but I heard a voice or two back there. When I got to the first aid station I took down some Gatorade and stuffed a couple of goodies in my pockets. Up to that point I had a GU and a half. Usually I also have a Cliff bar right before the race but I didn’t do that. Not a good start.

As I peeled off from the aid station two women passed by and I figured they might be the last of the 50k runners. I think I was right.

Miles 4-7

After the aid station the Bulldog Rd climb was slow going. Miraculously it was overcast, cloudy and almost cool but the climb didn’t feel any less relentless than it usually is. The last mile was super slow but I only took two or three small breaks to catch my breath and those were only a few seconds. As I figured, the fast 25k runners came by while I was still climbing. I tried to count runners because I knew my friend Dan was running and would be in the top group. When he did catch me I said Hi and told him that I thought he was in 6th place.

There’s a fire road fence towards the top of the Bulldog Rd. climb but I totally missed it and the next thing I saw was the search and rescue crew up there telling folks that they made it to the top and that there was steep one mile run to the bottom. I was feeling kind of crappy at this point and wasn’t up for a speedy descent to I jog walked down. I finally made it to the Corral Canyon aid station hosted by the 805 Bootcamp crew led by Randy and Sarita Shoemaker. Everyone treated me like a king when I got there and Sarita even took a photo of me acting silly. I had volunteered at the Bandit Ultra race earlier this year and it’s a great event put on by Randy and Sarita and their crew. I was soaking wet from sweat and still had plenty of water in my hydration. Second red flag. I tried to eat some things there but only took down a cracker with peanut butter and put more food in my pocket. I felt lifted from the energy of the aid station but shortly after I started the next little climb up the moon rock formation, I bonked big time.

Once I got to the top of the little ridges I saw the sign that there was a photographer on the other side. Last year I tried to be a ham and shot down the technical rock descent and stomped wrong and hurt my foot some. This year I was a lot more careful but still managed a nice smile.

Shortly after that I finally checked my elapsed time and it was 30 minutes slower than the pace I needed to hit the 4 hour mark. I felt sunk and my energy was super low. I had been feeling dizzy and somewhat drained. And now that the 50k bid was pretty much gone I shifted into cruise mode. I decided to hike in the rest and did.

I’m still trying to figure out why I made that choice. Did my motivation to race just fly out the window? Was I partially in survival mode since I had been feeling dizzy and crappy? I wasn’t that out of it and probably could have done some of the downhill runs. Or was I releasing my ego and deciding to just enjoy a good hike during a race? I certainly didn’t feel stressed about things. I knew I would finish even though I still had more than half the race to go.

Miles 7-15 and finish

I power hiked the rest of the race, including the steep downhills. The top 50k runners were now passing me on their second loop on their way to the finish line. Streams of 25k runners were still passing by. When I got to the Tapia Park aid station I took down some Coke and a couple of nibbles and even sat down for a minute. I wasn’t winded or out of breath but just sat for a rest. Before leaving the aid station I dunked my cap in the little kiddie pool and dumped the water on my head. I felt like hopping in and splashing around for a bit but I resisted.

The last hill (sometimes referred to as the Angry Chihuahuas) didn’t seem too bad since I was in cruise mode. Usually when I get there and I’m gassed I find a nice rock and take a sit for a few seconds. I tried to do that once on the climb and a runner passed by at that instance and put his hand on the rock where I was going to sit. I decide to skip the sit and keep going up to the top. I was glad that I had made the last climb.

Once I got down off the Chihuahuas I did a run/hike to the aid station and that’s where they checked me that I was a drop down to the 25k. Shortly before that I had received a voicemail asking where I was because they didn’t have a record of me being on the course. I didn’t hear the call come in. I think I was the only one yelling “155 out” as I left each aid station since I knew I was towards the back of the pack. (I did my part and even went to the timing table after the race to make sure my drop down was recorded and they had my bib number listed there.)

I continued the run/walk down the last part of the road and it was fun to hear people cheering me on. One 50k runner (I think) said “good job” ask she ran passed me and I said “I just did the 25k”. She replied “There is no ‘just’ in running this course, it’s tough.” She was right. I ran into through the finish line chute and into the 25k race line and got my medal.

I don’t think the official times have been posted yet but according to my Nike+/Strava stats, I did the 25k in 5:21:46. Let’s just say this year’s race makes my time from last year look like a masterpiece (except that I didn’t temporarily lose my vision as I did last year).

Follow me on Strava, Yo!

Muddy trail shoes and the shadow of a curious Chihuahua.

Muddy trail shoes and the shadow of a curious Chihuahua.

After thoughts

I am once again blown away by all the support we get out there as racers. The race director Nancy held things together, the volunteers and groups were all great and all the additional support crews were great.

As a data-head runner, I uploaded my race to Strava and checked the Flyby feature where you can see other folks who crossed your path while engaging in an activity. I could see how some folks made the cutoff and then went on for the second loop and didn’t make the first or second cutoff point. Those folks have a lot of guts and have my utmost respect as being badasses.

My carpooling buddies Jynelle and Bernice had good days and both finished their first ultras, congrats to them!

It was also cool finally meeting Christina who I follow on Twitter and her blog A Running Mess. Her blog of race reports is great and she does a lot of races here in Southern California.

What’s Next?

In three weeks I’ll run the Ventura Marathon and hope to meet up with a lot of my high school friends who are coming up from the San Gabriel valley to do the full marathon. It will be interesting to see how my mountain running endurance works back on roads. I ran the Father’s Day 10k race in Ventura June but I haven’t done much road running since then. I’ll have a couple of weeks to get used to the pounding then will probably use a run/walk strategy for the pancake flat but hot race course. This will be my first road marathon.

In November I’ll be doing the Ray Miller 50k and I’m confident that the more generous time cutoff (12 hours) will allow me to reach my goal of completing an ultra race by the end of the year. Luckily the race course is fairly close to my house so I’ll be able to train like mad to make some magic happen that day.

Did you run the Bulldog 25k or 50k as well? How did it go? Feel free to leave a link to your race report if you blogged about it. What’s your next race? Let me know in the comments and thanks for reading!

 

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Ventura Fathers Day 5k/10k Race Report 2015

Pre-race game face. The race is run along the beach in Ventura

Pre-race game face. The race is run along the beach in Ventura

I ran my first 10k race this past weekend at the Fathers Day 5k/10k race in Ventura, CA on Sunday, June 14, 2015. Last year I ran the 5k and had a great day with a 5k PR.

I entered this race pretty much at the last minute. The race was on my radar but I’ve been working on re-gearing my workouts and training and the miles have been rolling in an inconsistent way with very short miles on weekdays and only medium long runs on weekends.

My approach for the race was to go in and hit a pace that was just past uncomfortable while keeping my form. That’s more of a workout mentality but I was good with that and I would get some insight from this first 10k race.

Race Day

Race Director Bill Escobar going over the course route.

Race Director Bill Escobar going over the course route.

I got up around 5:30 a.m. and the weather was perfect. It was overcast and foggy with a slight drizzle. I hit the road at 7 a.m. to head towards Ventura then realized that even though I was only driving 20 minutes away that the drizzle could actually be a full rain in Ventura and I didn’t have a rain jacket with me. Oops.

In keeping with the workout approach to the race, I wore one of my favorite shirts which happens to be cotton. There is a portion of the race course that turns up from Surfer’s Point past the railroad crossing and there is usually a mean cross wind so I made sure to bandage up the nipples.

I got to the Crowne Plaza parking lot around 7:20 a.m. and took my time moseying over to the main race area. The last of the tables and signs were being put in place. I was a bit early for the the 8:15 a.m. start time. I didn’t worry about stretching too much and didn’t do any warmup jogs this time. I figured that in a 10k race I wouldn’t need that much water and there were plenty of aid stations so I didn’t carry any water on me.

Lining up for the start of the 10k race

Lining up for the start of the 10k race

My friend Dan was also running that day and we chatted for a while until it got closer to go time. I went over to take photos and video of the kids 1k Fun Run race then 10k racers filed into the starting area. People were pretty shy to head off to the front of the starting line pack and there was a big gap just behind the frontrunners.

Miles 0-2

At 8:15 the air horn soft of misfired but we headed off on the run. I didn’t get caught up in the early adrenaline of the race and took a nice steady pace, much slower than 5k pace. I felt good with the cool air and felt light not having to carry water. The only thing I had bouncing around was the iPhone in my front pocket. I had one earbud on and played my “5k run” playlist which has several songs with 180 beats per minute songs which encourage quick leg turnover.

The first aid station was only a mile out but I took some Gatorade, chugged it then crushed the cup and kept it in my pocket. My legs weren’t moving as fast as I wanted but I decided to go with the pace and see how I felt later on.

Not that I wasn’t having fun but one way to stay focused and motivated in a race is to zero in on people then reel them in. Olympian/runner/coach Jeff Galloway has a few other mental tricks that he shares like pretending someone up ahead has a giant rubber band around them and then one pretends to be pulled by that person in the rubber band. I don’t really like that kind of visualization because it relies on trying to take something away from someone else for one’s gain. But, I guess I was feeling somewhat competitive and found a couple of runners to reel in. This was actually a good mental exercise because I was behind them for about two miles before I caught up with them.

On the other hand, I think I was being reeled in by someone else. I heard some heavy breathing behind me near mile 3. The person didn’t pass me there then we got to little climb and I shifted into high gear and the breathing got louder but it didn’t fall behind.

At the mile 3+ turnaround I took down half a GU and got two waters, one to drink and one to pour over my head. After my Leona Divide experience I didn’t want to take any chances with dehydration sneaking up on me so I was pretty wet with sweat and water as I made my way back for the second half of the race.

Just past the turnaround

Just past the turnaround. Even the little rolling hills here can get draining.

Miles 3-finish

Not long after the turnaround the heavy breathing person powered past me. A little after that I took a walk break and checked my heart rate and it was up to 174 which is pretty high for me. When I train by heart rate I usually take it easy when I get to the low 160’s. After this brief slow down I started the jog again and shortly after that passed the two runners that I mentioned earlier.

I didn’t panic and think “Oh, crap, I’m falling apart.” I’ve run the entire course many times and know how I react to different parts. There are just some areas where it feels like things get tough then they even out so I just kept moving at a moderate pace until things evened out. At mile 4.5 I hit the last aid station and once again drank and poured water on my head. Another person had passed me earlier on and I finally caught up to him again. It was mile 5 and there weren’t too many other racers around me and I couldn’t spot the other racers in front of me. Apparently the heavy breather had kept pushing on and was no longer in sight.

I started pushing the pace and passed a few people but they were either general beach runners or they were part of the Ventura Marathon training run that was going on. Because I didn’t have anyone to try and reel in I just tried to keep my form and run strong the last mile. The last part of the 10k run is the same route as the 5k and I remember that last year the final little turnaround before the pier seemed like it was miles away so I told myself that I had to go and kiss the pier. That made for a bigger target and I was glad that I didn’t actually have to go the extra hundred feet to the pier before the last turnaround.

I had a clear path to the finish line and could see that no one was close behind me so I just picked up the pace and cruised in for the finish at 1:13:10, a 10k PR since it was my first 10k.

Race done

Race done

Tale of the tape and some questions

The 1:13:10 time was at a 11:48 min/mile pace for the 10k.  My 5k PR average pace was 9:13 min/mile and my half marathon PR average pace was a 11:34 min/mile pace. My 10k pace was slower than my half marathon pace!

I mentioned that I did a heart rate check just after the half way turnaround but the last half mile of the race was much higher at an average of 182 bpm! When I run there is usually a good correlation between heart rate and “discomfort” from running. In other words, if I feel like I’m hurting and I’ve been fueling properly, then I can be pretty sure that my heart rate is getting into the red zone. This race I tried to run just into the mild discomfort zone and my heart rate was super high. Does that mean that I was undertrained and thus my body had to exert much more to get a mediocre pace going? Maybe the cool weather helped block some of the discomfort that should have resulted after getting to those heart rate zones?

Either way, I felt fine the whole race and finished strong and not exhausted. Those are good signs but I just have to keep an eye on my heart rate I as continue training for upcoming races.

After the race I met up with Dan again and we stayed around for the bike raffle. I won a beautiful beach cruiser from the general raffle last year. I couldn’t figure out why I didn’t see Dan  come by on the out and back portions of the race but then I figured out that he did the 5k race. He crushed it and came in 4th overall and first in his age group.He’s a couple of years older than I am so there is hope for me in that folks around my age are still kicking some serious ass in races.

Even though my pace kind of sucked I had a good race and learned some important things about the distance and how my body reacted.

You can see my race stats on Strava and feel free to follow me!

Have any races coming up? Leave me a comment. Feel free to leave questions in the Comments section as well and thanks for tuning in!

 

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XTERRA Malibu Creek 22k Trail Race 2015 Report

After my crash and burn at the Leona Divide 50/50 race I thought I’d take some time to carefully pick the next race. It was between the Born To Run 50k (30 miler) and the XTERRA Malibu Creek 22k which I had run the year before. The BTR race looked like fun but I finally decided to focus on a course I’ve already run and to shoot for a PR on the XTERRA race.

You can see some of my training for the race last year here and this is my race report for XTERRA Malibu Creek 2014.

Now that I’ve started using Strava.com to post workouts and track the activity of others I’m able to really quantify the work that I’ve done on the Malibu Creek State park trails. One thing that I noticed was that in races at the park I always seemed to poop out in the last two miles.

Another insight that I gained was from my climbs up the dreaded Bulldog road. Bulldog is a 3 mile climb with grades that go from 10% to 30% with minimal downhills. From Strava data and from their cool new “flyby” feature I was able to see that my times to the top of Bulldog were actually very competitive. There were other racers who I trailed by a mere 10 minutes and they would go on to beat me by over an hour.  That meant that I was blowing things during the second half of the course, not during the big climb. This helped me come up with some useful strategies for trying to finish the race a lot faster.

Race day

The week leading up to the race we actually had rain in drought ravished California. It was glorious and it didn’t come down so much that we had to reschedule the race. We got the notice a couple of days before that the race was still on as planned.

By the time I got to Malibu Creek State Park, it was light and there was a dense fog over the surrounding mountains. This was more good news. Cool temperatures are my friend.

IMG_6155

I got to the park pretty easy and got a nice parking spot. I kept my jacket on and picket up my race shirt. One of the racers was giving a volunteer a hard time about the white cotton race t-shirt and was holding up his phone pointing out that the race website said that it would not be a regular white cotton shirt. I thought, “kind of early to be busting the chops of a volunteer, ain’t it?”

Race packet pickup

Race packet pickup

I dropped off the race shirt and bag then did something I never do before a race. I actually started warming up. I ran by the finish line then ran up the last part of the course some and felt pretty good. This little warmup would help me be ready for the start and the first flat portion of the course. But then I picked up my pace a tiny bit and I started feeling the little drumming of muscles twitching on the back of my calves.

Fog still hanging at the base of the mountain

Fog still hanging at the base of the mountain

I quickly slowed down for a few minutes then tried to pick it up again and the muscles started twitching again. Most of the time when that happens it’s a warning that something very bad will happen. Every time that has happened I’ve strained a calf muscle or temporarily hurt it. During the Ojai Half Marathon I had that same thing go on early in the race and hit the pain mark. By slowing down and walking some I was able to keep it away and then go on to pick up the pace again a little while after. I would have to start the race a lot slower than planned.

I finished up the warmup and ran into my race buddy Marty Barrios and he introduced me to a couple of his friends. I think a couple of them were doing the course for the first time. I got back to the car and loaded up the hydration pack and was ready for the race.

Pre-race meetup with Marty Barrios

Pre-race meetup with Marty Barrios

The race director walked us over to the starting line and reminded us all that the race really begins at mile 6 at the top of Bulldog. This is the exact observation that I made after looking at my previous race data. The RD told a story about how he did the race and power hiked miles 2-6 while another person next to him “ran” up the hill at the same pace. He said that after they got to the top of the mountain he took off and never saw the guy again. Everybody reacted with a sad “awww.” “He finished the race, he was OK,” the RD told us all then said that we were pretty sentimental for being about to run a race.

At the starting line

At the starting line

 Miles 0-2

The race started in two waves. I positioned myself towards the middle back of the second wave. The RD said go and we headed off. The first mile of the course is flat and has a slight downhill to it. I remembered my pulsing calves so I took it easy and didn’t worry about looking back to see if anyone was behind me. It didn’t matter, I was going to go as slow as need to keep the calves from going from pulsing to strained.

There was some mud on the path and one section where we actually had to take a tiny detour to avoid a large puddle of water that extended across the whole trail.

We hit the beautiful single track part of Crags Road and I took it at a nice easy pace. I passed a couple of people who were tentative on the wet rocks. I get a lot of energy from that part of the course and my legs just take off hopping off rocks and bouncing around obstacles.

When we hit the M*A*S*H site portion of Crags Road I kept on running although several racers pulled over to take selfies and photos of the Jeeps and signs that are in that little part of the trail. I’ve taken several photos there before so I didn’t indulge this time although I did during a training run the week before.

At the M*A*S*H site during an earlier training run

At the M*A*S*H site during an earlier training run

Miles 3-5

There was an aid station just before the turn onto Bulldog Road. They had water and Gatorade and I took a cup of Gatorade to help with the climb. I had finished off a GU gel a few minutes before that.

There were several of us in a little group climbing up Bulldog. We were at the far back of the whole pack at that point. We were all power walking at this point. We all started chatting and talking about different races that we’ve done. I think I was the only one in that group who had run the course before. The chatting helped keep our spirits up as the painful hike continued. It was still cool an the sun was peeking through but it wasn’t hot. Still, I continued to sip on water as we continued.

I had my GPS watch on so when the eventual and requent question came up asking “Uh, so how much farther do we have before we get to the top?” I could tell them exactly how far we were. We didn’t all hike up together the whole time. Every now and then I’d stop to catch my breath whenever my heart rate approached 165 bpm. After a while I’d catch up with one or another of the racers. I chatted for a while with Marisol who had done some trail races before but had mostly done road half marathons, 30 of them. Marisol mentioned that after this race she would have herself a good breakfast and I told her that I had toast for breakfast but that I would have a burger, fries and large soda after the race as my “recovery meal.”

I finally hit the top of Bulldog Road and for once it came earlier than I remembered. Usually I’ll be climbing it and there will be a turn and I’ll say “Ok one more steep climb and we’re home.” Then I’ll turn the corner and it will actually be three more big steeper climbs. This time I could see the racers running down across the mountain and I was pleasantly surprised.

Miles 6-7

The downhills were finally here and I made it down the first climb rather quickly, remembering to keep my form and not totally blow out my quads at this point. Next thing I know I was coming into the Corral Canyon aid station. I took more water, dumped some on my head even though I felt pretty good temperature wise. I took down a couple of cups of Gatorade then started looking for a good spot to do my business. There wasn’t much cover here so I just started back on the trail.

Just as I started climbing some of the moon rocks portion of the course, there was a guy who kind of looked like Scott Jurek and it looked like he was pacing another runner. I couldn’t really see his face but he looked to be the same height as Jurek and also had black curly hair. I think it was actually someone who kind of looks like him. I could be wrong.

Miles 8-11

I purposefully did not check my time until I got past mile 7. I was almost at exactly the same time as on my training run the week before. That wasn’t good or bad either way. I knew that most of my time would depend on the rest of the race and that could vary greatly.

I ran into Marisol again and we chatted more. We’d walk the uphills and run the flats and downhills. After a few of the downhills I started to pull away until I didn’t see her. I finally found a spot to do my business (which took time and required a flying hawk to finally get things started) and probably ended up flashing all of Calabasas canyon a mile below with my watertechnics. Sorry about that Bieber. I heard several people pass by as I was off trail and figured I was probably pretty close to tail end of the pack by that point.

Now that my bladder was happy I was ready to tear off downhills.I started cranking my way down for a good stretch then the pulsating started again. GrumpyCalves were trying to rear they ugly heads. At that point Marisol caught up with me again and asked if my calories from my burger breakfast had run out. I laughed and told her that the burger would be a post-race indulgence. She laughed and passed me up.

A little after that another racer caught up to me. I had passed her at the start of the downhills so she was a little surprised to see me walking. She asked if I was OK and told her about my calves. She offered me salt pills and I happily took a couple. I don’t think I was particularly salt-depleted but I had been sweating buckets, as I usually do. The pulsing stopped shortly after and I started zooming downhill again. I’m actually pretty good at downhills and was able to shoot by a few folks on this last part of the big descent.

Miles 12 – Finish (14)

At mile 12 we hit the end of the descent and there is a hairpin turn onto a portion of the Backbone Trail. As I approached Backbone I saw a mountain biker come up and also a woman with a cane. Apparently both had over shot the course turn and were about to turn onto the Backbone as well to continue the race. During the big descent earlier there had been about 8 mountain bikers shooting down the hill and I think that made a lot of racers really slow down and it was kind of dangerous. Now the mountain bikers were turning onto this very narrow and rocky single track. Having bikes and runners on the same track at the same time was not a great idea. The mountain bikers were also part of the XTERRA adventures of the day.

I made sure to pay attention to what was going on behind me but still wanted to push on as this is a fun part of the course. On this portion of the course I caught up with one of Marty’s friends who I had met at the race start. It looks like she had fallen but was with a friend and they seemed to be handling things OK so I slowed down but it didn’t look they needed any assistance so I kept on.

The last aid station is around mile 12.5. I splashed more water on my head and drank some more Gatorade. At this point I hadn’t eaten anything for probably an hour and I was pooped. I shook my head because I was repeating things all over again, being super tired before mile 13. I headed onto Las Virgenes Road which is a nerve wracking part of the course. Cars are literally a couple of feet by, whizzing right towards us as we make our way over the bridge.

I was very relieved to finally make it over the little bridge and back onto the trail at Piuma until I hit something and tripped. In the time it took to realize I was about to wipe out to the time I hit the ground I remembered what folks in the Trail and Ultra Running (TAUR) group always say and I was able to expertly tuck and roll to avoid doing a full trail-eating face first Superman move. I was pissed that I fell at mile 13 and was tired but bounced back and kept on the trail. I have the hardest time running down this little stretch of the park for some reason and walked most of it till I got to the final set of hills (referred to as the Angry Chihuahua).

As I got to the Angry Chihuaha, another racer caught up and he had a trickle of blood on his head. I let him know and he said that it wasn’t a lot so no biggie. He had fallen a couple of times throughout the race and had wiped out exactly at the same place I did. I took this mentally draining climb a couple of feet at a time and would stop whenever my heart rate got too high. I was started to get a little dizzy so I didn’t push it. I kind of laughed because I pushed as much as I dared but a lot of people passed me up during this climb. I had passed Marisol on the downhills earlier and she finally caught up. I hiked a little bit with her but my heart rate was redlining so I stopped again. I’ve learned that it’s better to keep my own pace sometimes while listening to my body.

Unlike on the Bulldog, the top of the Angry Chihuahua didn’t appear “quickly.” I finally hit the short downhill and was right behind the woman who had the cane earlier. She had an Ace bandage around her knee and I figured she had strained it earlier but was determined to gut it out and keep going. When we hit the last flat portion we both took off for the finish line a couple of hundred yards away. During my training run a couple of weeks before I had felt like a million bucks and during this stretch I put my sunglasses in, pulled my hat down and drove to the finish area like I was Jorge Pacheco crushing a race. This time the calves started up again.

“How fast can you go before our warning pains turn into a full on strain,” my calves asked.

The site of my running the slowing down and the racer with the bandage’s limping run could have either been comical or inspiring. One racer just in front of both of us actually took out his camera to take photos of this site. I could have pushed it more but really didn’t like my last calf strain weeks of recovery so I didn’t and finished just behind the tough as nails racer.

I finished officially in 4 hours 4 minutes and 25 seconds, 1 minute and 25 seconds faster than last year. Curiously enough, someone else had the exact same finish time this year. That’s possible because of the difference in clock time versus chip time. I haven’t figured out which of the other racers that was.

Tale of the tape

Distance: 14.0 miles

Time: 4:04:25

Elevation gain: 2,950ft

Calories burned: 2,923

After the race I was pretty gassed and made my way to a bench after picking up my medal and having my timing chip removed from my shoe. At last year’s Bulldog 25k which is the same as 95% of the XTERRA race course, my vision went bonkers and everything turned super bright. This year I sat and waited things out and my vision wasn’t too bad but it was a little bright.

I was curious so I took off my sunglasses and things were just as bright as last year. I put my shades back on and wanted to grab some food to get my blood sugar back on track but didn’t want to chance getting dizzy on the way to the food tent. I almost reached over and snagged an orange wedge from another racer but waited a bit longer then made my way to the tent. I found a bench that was in the shade and watched a few more racers finish then got my legs back and headed off for my post-run burger meal.

As I made my way home after some grub, I got a text from my sister saying that my aunt Josefina had passed away. That really helped put things into perspective. I run for fun and for exercise but there is much more to life than pushing one’s endurance limits. I went home, showered then remembered the fun times playing at my cousin’s house as a kid and my very kind, funny and patient aunt.

 

 

 

 

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Leona Divide 50k 2015 Race Report – DNF

I ran the Leona Divide 50k race yesterday with about 500 other trail running fanatics. Unfortunately my race ended around mile 21 when I chose to drop. It was a tough race and thoughts and emotions are still swirling but wanted to put things down in writing although I’m sure my thoughts and judgments will change over the next few days and weeks.

The Leona Divide 50k was part of long term plan to attempt and finish my first ultra this year. In December I started training for my first attempt, the Sean O’Brien 50k but then I figured I should attempt a trail marathon so I switched my registration to the marathon. That race had its challenges but I was able to persevere with a lot of help from trail running friends.

What better way to train for a 50k ultra than to do a tough marathon?

After SOB, my training for the two months leading up to Leona Divide was spotty. Work was crazy busy and it was tough to schedule time to run. I got in a few good runs but only got into double digit miles one time in that period. Because of the time factor I did more gym workouts and focused on my core strength.

The one double digit mile training run was at the Leona Divide course. I got the lay of the land and was able to see what might give me trouble. I only ran one “arm” of the Pacific Crest Trail that makes up a good chunk of the race.  The other “arm” looked like it was easier than the one I did. I was somewhat wrong. More on this later.

Race Day

I set the alarm for 3am but woke up at 1:50am and also at 2:15am. I decided to just get up extra early and took a warm shower to warm up my legs some. I got to the Start/Finish line an hour early and went into the Green Valley Community Club to figure out where to leave my drop bag. This is the first time I’ve used a drop bag so the process was new.

I got in line to use the rest rooms but it looked like there were only two bathrooms and there was a major line. After a while of waiting I decided to turn on my headlamp and search for a nice tree to water. As I started watering, someone came up near me and also did some watering as he chatted. There were plenty of trees to water but I guess he was being chatty.

More folks started showing up and I looked around to see if I could spot some of my Trail and Ultra Running (TAUR) group friends. Earlier that week I noticed that Billy Yang, trailrunning filmmaker, had tweeted asking if anyone else was doing the Leona Divide. I tweeted that I was and that I was anxiously awaiting his full film on the Lake Sonoma 50 race. He said I should say “Hi” at the race so I did so when I spotted him near the registration line. I told him this was my first ultra and he wished me luck. Billy has created some awesome films including “Western Time,” available on Youtube. Check him out at https://www.youtube.com/user/BillyYangFilms/videos

I spotted some buddies from previous races who dress up in InkBurn mariachi running kits and also Adriana Zapata who I ran with during part of the Sean O’Brien Marathon (she was doing the SOB 50k that day). I finally ran into Michael Everest Dominguez and we wished each other luck. One of my training runs was at Wildwood Canyon Park after Michael had invited me to join him. It was cool running/hiking with him and his family that day.

Start time was approaching so folks started getting ready at the start line. I heard one person make some announcements but couldn’t hear much from where I was. I turned and found myself right next to Crista Scott who is a part of the TAUR group and also an awesome blogger. Check out her blog at: http://misscristascott.blogspot.com/. I said Hi and another TAUR friend was with her as well, Todd Kaplan. We hadn’t met in person so this was another one of those fun moments when online and real world meet.

Club house at the Leona Divide 50/50 race 2015

Club house at the Leona Divide 50/50 race 2015

 

Outside the club house at the Leona Divide 50/50

Outside the club house at the Leona Divide 50/50

Packed house, ready to race!

Packed house, ready to race!

Miles 1-3

One the race started we made our way up Spunky Canyon Rd. for one mile for an elevation gain of 280 feet. I knew that if I tried to run this part the whole way that I might get another visit from GrumpyCalf. Two weeks before the race I made the rookie mistake of doing a hard training run with new shoes – Hokas. The Hokas felt fine until I surged up a hill a mile into the run and then my calf was zapped. I don’t blame the shoe but I did take them back a few days later.

The first mile wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be then we hit Spunky Edison Rd. up for about 2 miles. During this time most of the field has already spread apart and I was solidly a part of the back of the pack. This part of the road took us up another 270 feet. I felt fine and did mostly run/walk until we got to the first aid station. I barely stopped and headed on to the Pacific Crest Trail.

Miles 4-5

Elevation gain started cranking up from mile 4 to 5, taking us to the top of the first big climb, netting us an extra 300 feet of elevation gain. As we wound our way up to the top, there were a couple of turns where you could see the sun shine around the corner. It was a beautiful site and I wanted to take a photo but didn’t want to break my momentum. This climb was gradual and I had done this on my training run so I knew what to expect. Getting to that first ridge was pretty nice. One runner was there snapping photos. “We’re at the top,” I said. “That’s why I’m taking photos!” she beamed.

Miles 6-9

Once leaving the ridge, it’s a fairly steep descent. It was still early in the race so I took it easy on the downhill. Right at mile 5.7 or so the first of the 50k runners was already heading back up the mountain. I stepped aside and was careful to watch as other speedy runners trickled up the mountain. Miles 6 and 7 sunk down close to 900 feet. It would be a breeze going downhill but I knew that I’d have to climb that beast eventually.

Around mile 8 the descent went sideways and mixed in some small climbs until it took us to the Bouquet Canyon Rd at the end of mile 9. I spent minimal time there then shot off to take a nature break then made my way up the beast.

Miles 10-12

My strategy for climbing this steep soul-sucking side of the mountain was to make sure I had my music playing in one earpod then to just keep taking short steps up the mountain. During training I only went down halfway so I wouldn’t have to go all the way back up. But not halvsies this time. The climb was tough and around mile 11 I started getting a little dizzy and I was starting to stumble around some. These are the kinds of symptoms I get at the end of tough half marathons or 25k’s. It was far too early to ignore them at this point. I kept putting one foot in front of the other and briefly chatted with people on the way up until they saw that my pace was too slow and they made their way up ahead.

I was gassed when I reached this point.

I was gassed when I reached this point but still had around 300 feet more to climb.

I craved the top of the mountain and just as I was reaching it, there was a photographer and I made a tiny effort to run and smile. Steps after running past the photog I stopped to enjoy the top but got light headed again. Even that little jog on the final incline had affected me.

Miles 13-15

I made my way downhill and decided to power walk for a while. That big climb had taken a lot out of me.

I knew that the next part of the course was mostly downhill with some rolling and had already thought about calling it a day at aid station #3, which is also aid station 1 and 5 since course is a kind of “T.” A few more people passed me on the downhills and around mile 13 I noticed another runner. I briefly looked back and told her to go ahead if she was trying to pass. “Oh, no, you’re going at a good pace for me,” she said. I thought that was a little odd since I was slogging along and only occasionally running. We chatted as we continued and I told her that I wasn’t feeling all that great but Lizette said that she’d keep running with me.

Running with other people is energizing and it helps to pass the miles. When we got to aid station #3 I still didn’t feel great but I was pretty much ready to continue on. I asked one of the volunteers what the next 7.5 miles looked like and he said “They’re rolling. Which is short for ‘you fuckin liar.'” I could tell from the look in his eyes that he was scanning me over to see if I was in shape to continue and that he was telling me that it would not be an easy 7.5 miles to the next aid station at the end of the “T.”

Another volunteer checked on me as I filled my hydration pack and asked if I had taken salt tablets then she touched my shirt which had no wetness to it and just a big ring of sweat. I always sweat buckets and usually look like I just made it through a car wash past mile 3 but this time I was bone dry. “You should take more tablets when you get to the top,” she said. I remember looking at the course elevation diagram and the climbs looked way smaller than what I had just done so I wondered what she meant by “the top.”

Elevation chart for Leona Divide 50k. Big climbs on the left, smaller climbs on the right. Right?

Elevation chart for Leona Divide 50k. Big climbs on the left, smaller climbs on the right. Right?

Miles 16-21

I have some advantages and disadvantages when it comes to trailrunning. One of my strengths is that I believe in doing specific training. I do research, I train on the course and I try to learn from those experiences to help me troubleshoot on race days. I was familiar with most of the first 15 miles but the next segment from Spunky Edison to San Fran Rd. was a mystery. After the first two miles we started looking from hope from the folks who were already running back towards us. We hoped that someone would tell us that there were gradual climbs but as we went on the looks on the faces of folks who approached us looked more and more worn down. As we got closer we kept hearing “the aid station is 2 miles up” and then they’d follow with “and it’s not an easy 2 miles.” This happened several times and shortly after that we’d turn a corner and there would be another huge climb in front of us.

We ran into Michael and he was making great time. He stopped to chat with us and wasn’t too happy with the sandy, slanted, narrow single track but he was only about 5 miles from the finish line and went on to get a great time.

I continued chatting with Lizette who power hiked behind me the whole time on the narrow path. Some of the miles clicked away nicely but then another climb hit and I wasn’t feeling any better.

By around mile 18 my spirits were pretty low. I was still feeling like crap although there was nothing in particular that ached and I didn’t feel super hot. The ground was sandy and I had forgotten to wear sunglasses so the trail glare was getting to me. But I just didn’t feel right. I was sick of eating GU gels and didn’t feel like eating. I knew that was not a good thing but didn’t want to get sick from eating something I didn’t feel like eating. Around mile 19 we turned another corner and there was another big climb. I told Lizette that I wasn’t sure if I’d make it out of the next aid station.

We finally made it to the final mile before the aid station where there was a big decent and Lizette was ready to run and asked if I was. She answered for me, “I’m sure you’re like, ‘Hell no.'” and I confirmed that. She took off down the hill.

San Francisquito aid station (mile 21+)

As I got to the aid station a volunteer asked “What can I get you?” and my instant response was “A chair.” She scooted over and pulled up a chair for me and she and other got me some Coke and water. I told her I wasn’t too very well and she asked if it was my legs or my nutrition. I told her that I had stopped eating. She asked if I wanted anything and suggested boiled potato. I said yes and she got some for me in a cup. I had a drop bag there and the volunteer was kind enough to bring it to me. I fished out some coconut water and took some large gulps of the warm liquid.

Lizette was over getting water then took off back up to finish the last 10+ miles of the race. I wished her well. She finished the race and recovered by doing a half marathon today.

I had already decided to call it a day and overheard one volunteer tell another volunteer that he was going to drive a runner back to the start/finish line because he had already been at their little medical tent for a while and he was seriously dehydrated. I told the volunteer that I was dropping and she told the driver and we arranged to all go back together. The driver, Carlos, had his car across the street so I watched for cars then made my way over. At that point my stomach started to turn and I knew what would come next. I made my way up an embankment under some shade where several people were watching the aid station levity and runners. Folks were dressed up as super heroes including some awesome Wonder Women who would have taken more of my visual attention had I not been feeling so low.

So I headed up the embankment, away from the spectators and projectile vomited about 5 times. Carlos, who was dressed as the Hulk, patted me on the back but I knew I had another good heave left. I’ve read tons of books and stories and articles on trail runners who spew their guts out on the trails and it always ends up the same. Afterwards they say “I feel much better!” That’s exactly what happened. I had already dropped and was ready to speed back to the start/finish line and I had just upchucked so the thought of continuing with the race hadn’t crossed my mind yet.

One of the kind spectators on the embankment got me a cold water and then I realized that I had left my hydration pack (with my keys and wallet in it) on the back of the aid station chair. I carefully crossed the road then made my way back. Carlos was helping the dehydrated runner and his friend get into the back of the car and he handed me a large empty garbage bag. “No offense but if you have to spew again please use this.” I told him that if I had to honk that I’d certainly use the bag. As we drove off I sipped on water and he said, “You know, as soon as you finished throwing up you look much better.” I told him, “Yup, I feel like a million bucks now. Ok, not quite a million.”

We made it to the aid station and I helped Carlos to the medical tent with the other runner then I grabbed some cups of water and made my way home. I tried to tweet or Facebook that I had DNF’d in case my friends in the race wondered what had happened but I didn’t have cell service.

The morning after

After a lot of great supportive comments on social media from friends and family, I got up at the crack of dawn to work. My work sponsored a couple of dozen members to run the Aut2run 10k and 5k in Camarillo to support autism awareness. I figured that I’d be a wreck the day after an ultra I was on photo and booth detail and didn’t plan to run. The race sold out and we didn’t have any extra slots so I didn’t end up racing even though I could have had a nice shakeout run.

As I waited for runners to come in from the race, I ran through the Leona Divide race and started to feel that I should have continued. Some of my other trail runner buds had gone through much more adversity out on the course and were able to gut it out and I had stopped short of my goal. The main reason I decided to drop was that after feeling lightheaded and stumbling that I had done, I might only make it out 2 miles then I’d have to have someone come out and get me. That’s not the way I wanted my day to end so I pulled the plug.

Part of taking on these challenges is finding out how one deals with circumstances. I don’t know how I’ll react the next time I’m in a similar situation but I’ll have this race as an experience to help me figure it out. A big thank you to all my friends and family and to all the amazing trailrunners and awesome volunteers out there. Things didn’t pan out the way I wanted but I’m not sorry at all for giving it a try. And I’m totally giving this race another shot next year. I’ll be ready for it.

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Bandit Ultra Trail Race 2015 – Volunteering and Photos O’ Plenty

Last year I signed up for the Bandit Ultra Trail Race 30k and the days leading up to the race I got sicker and sicker. The day before the race I thought I could pull it off even though I had massive body aches and felt like death warmed over. I picked up my bib and shirt but by the time I got home I was a wreck and had to DNS the race.

This year I went back to the Bandit a week after running the Sean O’ Brien Marathon but went to volunteer. If you were in the race, I was one of the guys along with JK who helped steer 50k, 30k and 15k runners around the first loop then onto the first uphill climb.  I was also at the race to support my friends Marcos and his son Canek who were doing a fundraiser for CAUSE, a social justice organization. Marcos is the Executive Director of CAUSE. There were also a lot of folks from the Trail and Ultra Running Group (TAUR) and it was fun connecting with them online and at the race. I was sporting my TAUR hat during the event.

After the first three races started I ran back to set up the initial set of cones so that runners would be channeled to the right direction when they made their way back to the finish line. There was also a 6k race but they started in a different location and would be zooming down the hill towards the same finish line.

After setting up the cones, we ran around the first mile-long loop and picked up cones and swept off all of the flour arrows from the race since runners would not be going that way again.

After that my initial volunteer duties were over and I grabbed my Nikon and waited for the first runners to show up. I ended up staying for the entire event and was basically on my feet for close to ten hours. I did take a couple of little breaks here and there to grab more goodies from my car and to sit for a bit but it was a long day. It felt great being able to give back to the running community.  It really is a different selfless world on the other side of the race experience. One runner came in and was totally gassed and I helped guide him around as he got more water and got his legs back. Others came in and shared their incredible runs on this crazy hot day. The week before during the SOB races, it was in the 60’s and raining. This week it was in the mid 80’s which feels like 90’s because of the radiating rocks.

Even though I mostly took photos of the finish line, every finish was special on its own. I photographed about 90% of folks who finished the race and was able to connect with some of them to share photos of them. It was also great getting to meet and chat with Jorge Pacheco who is a running legend. He won the 50k race that day at the Bandit and the week before he came in third in the Sean O’ Brien 100k race, earning him a spot in this year’s Western States 100 race. Jorge congratulated me on finishing the marathon race at the Sean O’ Brien. Crazy to think that two years ago I was 35 pounds heavier, a type 2 diabetic and leading a couch potato lifestyle.

I’m embedding the Flickr gallery here below and you are welcome to download the “large” size photo. The photos are under a license. You may use them but please give me some attribution by using my name and a link back to jesseluna.com.

This is the direct link to the Flickr page.

Also, if you ran Bandit, please leave a comment!

 

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Sean O’Brien 50 50 100 Marathon Race Report 2015

Starting-line-Sean-OBrien-2015

I got a little crazy in December and decided to sign up for my first ultra race. After some training I figured it made more sense to do a trail marathon first so with that I changed my registration from the Sean O’Brien 50K to the Marathon race on February 7, 2015.

If you’re not familiar with the Sean O’Brien races, this is the second year for the races, held at Malibu Creek State Park in Agoura Hills. Last year runners could sign up for the Marathon, 50k or the 50 miler. The 50 miler turned into a playground for elite runners seeking to qualify for a coveted Western States 100 spot. This year, a 100k race was added and it is part of the Montrail Ultra Cup Series. Top two men and women get the golden ticket to Western States.

The Marathon race wasn’t a qualifier of any kind but it was a ticket to 5,000+ feet of elevation gain going up and down segments of the beautiful Backbone Trail. I chose to do the Sean O’Brien race because I had already competed in two races on part of the course in 2014 – the XTERRA Malibu Creek Challenge 22K and the Bulldog 25K race.

Race Day
I got up, had my usual breakfast of almond butter and banana sandwich with coffee, waited to wake up then fed the doggies and before I knew it I was off for the race. I had been checking weather reports all week and they all pointed to rain. The drive to the race was quick and there was no rain, yet. The 100K racers had started at 5 a.m. and the 50 milers started at 6 a.m. I got to the park around 6:15 a.m, hit the latrine then made my way toward the starting line. As soon as I got near I ran into Alan, a member of the Trail and Ultra Running (TAUR) group on Facebook and we chatted until it was time to get ready for the 7 a.m. start.

There were supposed to be other TAUR people at the race but I hadn’t run into any other folks. With about 5 minutes to start Alan and I were near the start of the Marathon and 50K race and I cupped my hands together in front of my mouth and yelled “Marty Barrios, please come to the TAUR section.” I had no idea where Marty was and hadn’t met him IRL but it turns out he was right in front of me and we all laughed. We also met up with Martine who has been a new mommy for four months. She’s a badass trail runner and had a great day.

There were a couple of other folks I was keeping an eye out for but didn’t catch site of them at the start.

Start of Sean O'Brien Marathon  and 50K 2015

Pre-race selfie with Alan

Pre-race selfie with Alan

Miles 0-5
Race director Keira Henninger counted us down from 20 and we were off. I started in the middle of the pack and mostly stayed there for the first portion of the race which is on pavement then leads up to a small set of hills which is at times referred to as the “Angry Chihuahua.” I think the hills got that nickname because on the other side of the park is an unrelenting 3 mile climb on Bulldog Rd. The Angry Chihuahua is much smaller than the Bulldog Rd. climb but when it comes at the end of a long and tough race it seems like it is unending. I think I may have set off a bit too fast because just before the first hills 2013 Western States winner Timothy Olson passed me and I ran a couple of people behind him for most of the short climb.

We hit Dolores road and made our way to Malibu Creek which is actually a good sized creek now that there’s been some rain. Last summer I was able to easily rock hop it and this time the best route was to storm through it. The water came up to my knees and I managed not to slip or trip on rocks. There was a bit of backup there but as we made our way across and up to the start of Backbone Trail portion of the race where we started to thin out some. After the first little portion of Backbone there is a 1,200 ft climb over then next two miles.

Just before starting that big climb I stopped to get some rocks out of my shoes. Halfway up the climb I stopped again to get rid of more rocks and to take off my jacket and tie it to the back of my hydration pack. I tried to make sure that the jacket was tied on well. (During the XTERRA Point Mugu race I put a shirt back there and when I finished the race it was no where to be seen. Luckily the race volunteers believed my story and were kind enough to give me another shirt.)

As the climb continued I told myself that once I got to the top I would dig into my stash of cookies, trail mix, pretzels and honey glazed peanuts. I was basically carrying my own aid station. When I got to the top I tried to take out the zip lock bag but I had over-stuffed my pack and the top of the bag all ripped off. There’s a nice little bench at the top of the climb and I dug into some cookies and put a bunch of goodies in my shorts pockets. As racers passed by I figured it was time to keep moving.

Miles 6-8

The next few miles are shorter climbs and downhills along the ridge line. There are some amazing rock formations up there that look like they belong on Mars and there is a section that has a bunch of concentric rock circles. I ran the flat parts and downhills and power hiked the uphills. Around this time I power hiked and chatted with someone who was also doing the marathon race. We came to a downhill and I ran while she continued to power hike. After about a mile I turned off the trail to water the local shrubbery and she passed me. After a bit we said hi again and I kept hitting the downhills and passed her again.

I got to the first aid station at Corral Canyon at mile 7.5 and it was like a little party. Someone was banging on pot and there were a lot of great volunteers helping out. At this point there were only runners going out towards them as the 100K and 50 milers were still way off. I got a few snacks, had some electrolytes and then headed off.

Miles 9-13.5
From Coral Canyon one can either head up towards Bulldog Rd. or you can go down and continue on the Backbone Trail. The race course heads down at that point and it’s mostly a downhill venture. As I got into this portion I started seeing people already coming back up the mountain. The first of them were other marathon race runners. I knew that the first of them were in full race mode so I did my best to keep out of the way and spent a lot of the next miles moving over to the right to let them storm past. I recognized and cheered on Magdalena Boulet as she raced up the mountain and would eventually win the 100k race.

Around mile 9/10 there is a big climb that was very draining. During a training run that I did with my nephew and niece we hiked through that portion and I was pretty gassed. The same thing happened this time as well.

I hit the next aid station and was still doing OK but was mostly running/hiking on my own. The aid station cheer and goodies helped my mood some but by the time I was approaching the halfway turnaround point at Kanan Rd. I felt tired and started to doubt whether I wanted to complete this challenge. I wasn’t hurt in any way but by the time I got to the last aid station I saw that I was way off my predicted time. Just as I came into the Kanan aid station I saw Pete from my TAUR group and that started to cheer me up. When I got to the aid station I dug into the goodies, refilled my hydration pack with water and electrolyte and was offered some soup. I’ve never had soup at a trail race but I’ve heard it has magical qualities to bring runners back from the dead. They went to this giant crock pot and filled up a Styrofoam cup with the hot elixir. I took some sips and let it work its magic.

Miles 13.5-22
Just before leaving the Kanan aid station, still with the soup cup in my hand, one of the volunteers mentioned that they had “accounted for all of the marathon racers.” As I’ve mentioned before in race reports, I always think that there must be some kind of group of super duper slow runners behind me bringing up the rear. I’m almost always wrong and am often towards the very back of the back of the pack. This time I was totally the last person. That was a bit of a bummer but I felt better with the soup and made my way up the steep rocky hill with the cup of soup still in hand.

It was a beautiful morning, rain and all, and I think I looked like I was on a Saturday stroll. A racer passed me and I told them “Good job!” They turned around and didn’t see my bib number on my shorts and probably saw me casually carrying the cup and he asked, “Are you racing?” I told him that I was and he continued running. I might not have been having a great race time wise but I was determined to at least have a great hike that morning while I was out there. I was still power hiking as fast as I could.

When I got to the next aid station I ran into Marty who caught up to me from his 50K race. He told me to just take my time and that I’d be OK. It made sense the way he said it and that made me feel better. I continued on and hit another large energy sucking climb.

Runners from all races except the marathon continued to pass me and every time they got close I moved to the side and gave them plenty of room. At one point I heard someone coming up and turned to see him. It turned out to be Marvin who I knew was racing the 50k that day. I’ve followed him on Twitter for years and have followed his activities on Stava but have never met him IRL, In Real Life. “Are you Marvin?” I asked and it was him! We hiked together and chatted and then Marty caught up to us and we all ran together for about a mile. By this time it had been raining for a while and my Nike Sportswatch either temporarily shorted or just ran out of juice. Bummer.

Running with Marvin and Marty really improved my mood and I was feeling pretty good. A couple of climbs came up and I told them to go ahead because I was going as fast as I could and they had more legs left so they went on. It was cool, I was in better spirits and continued to make my way.

I eventually hit the Coral Canyon aid station again and was now just 7.5 miles away from the finish. I gobbled some goodies and sucked down more electrolyte drink then made my way. I met Adriana along the way and she was doing the 50k. She told me about her experiences at the North Face Endurance Challenge 50 miler in San Francisco in December and how it was a true mudfest. My pace was still slow so I told her not to wait for me and she picked up her pace and headed on. Shortly after that I heard another runner approaching and it was Marvin. He had taken a long stop at the aid station with his Team in Training friends.

Miles 23-Finish (27)
I ran and power hiked the rest of the way with Marvin and I had a blast. It was still raining and my shoes were caked with mud. As we started down the Backbone Trail on our final big descent we heard the traffic and the creek and looked forward to the creek crossing. The last part of Backbone was super muddy and it has some short steep parts. I almost fell several times but managed to stay upright the whole time. It was fun, really. It was like being a little kid out playing in the rain. We hit the creek and a rope had been set up to help with the crossing. That rope was much needed because the creek was surging faster with the rain.

We hit Dolores Rd then went back up the Angry Chihuahua for the final climbs of the day. We were chatting as we power hiked so the climb wasn’t too bad for me. We finally started the descent and Marvin’s friends were around and cheering him on. We got off the hill and ran on the paved road and kept up the run to the finish. During my Bulldog 25K finish I was toally toast and could barely keep up a jog walk on this stretch and here I was speeding the whole way to the finish line.

Tale of the tape
I finished the marathon in 9 hours 47 minutes and 37 seconds. I was 37/38 overall, last male but also 3rd in my age group. In most races getting top three in one’s age group means you get to podium. I’m going to hold onto that accomplishment regardless of overall place. Here are the race results.

More race back story
I also selected this race because I was inspired by the hoopla of last year’s race. Ethan Newberry, known as The Ginger Runner and his friend Billy Yang both created amazing films about last year’s 50k and 50 miler. Here’s The Ginger Runner film and here’s Billy Yang’s film. Billy Yang also used footage from the race as he put together his film Western Time which featured Sally McRae who won second place in the 2014 Sean O’Brien 50 Miler and went on to get top 10 at Western States. I figured if these guys were going to do films about races in my back yard (I live 50 minutes away) then I was going to race it.

I also read a race report by Vicky Petryshyn and she had a great experience at last year’s race and went on to kick ass at Comrades as the top U.S. woman. I had a chance to run into Vicky as she was crushing this year’s 50 miler. Her blog is full of awesome, check it out.

Another reason I did this race was that I heard that race director Keira put on an awesome race and they were right. The aid stations were all well stocked, there were tons of great volunteers and lots of special treats like the magical chicken soup and veggie chili at the end of the race which I didn’t try but looked good.

Last thoughts
I’ve read and seen interviews with countless trail runners who tell stories about how they were hurting or not feeling it and were ready to throw in the towel before hitting a turnaround point. For some who race 100 milers or longer they sometimes have several highs and lows along the race. For me, I kept going because I wasn’t hurt at all and because of the encouragement of other racers and  friends who I first connected with online. Thank you to all who have kept encouraging me throughout this fitness journey.

What’s Next?
Well, I signed up for the Leona Divide 50k in April.That is supposed to be my first ultra race but with this race being 27 miles and not the 26.2 that a marathon is, one could argue that this was technically an ultra. The Leona Divide race is almost entirely run on the Pacific Crest Trail. If you’ve read the book “Wild” or seen the movie then that’s the same Pacific Crest Trail.

What’s your next race or fitness challenge?

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Santa To The Sea Half Marathon and 2014 Recap

Santa to the Sea Half Marathon
Over the past year I’ve run over 800 miles and raced three half marathons, three challenging trail races over 11 miles long and in several 5ks. I also dedicated a lot of training time to increasing my climbing and logged over 24,000 feet in elevation gain. I trained on several mountain ranges in Southern California and feel like I can knock out a half marathon run at any time, so I did.

It’s been a couple of weeks since running the Santa To The Sea Half Marathon in Oxnard on Dec. 18. I was excited to tackle the course and try to set a PR for the half. The flat as a pancake course would be the perfect opportunity to run fast. I was also glad that the County fixed the road right at the starting line. That part of town is in an unincorporated part of Ventura County so it doesn’t get the extra attention that a city government would provide. There was also a great little running mural along the divider barrier closest to the highway.

But about a week before the race I decided to take the leap and sign up for an ultra, the Sean O’Brien 50k at Malibu Creek State Park in early February. With only a little over a month to go I decided to turn the Santa To the Sea Half into more of a training run. I figured that if I ran it too hard I’d have to take a few days off to recover. I’d need those days to do additional training.

Race day was chilly. I wore a Santa hat and bundled up, wearing a long-sleeved compression shirt with another shirt over that. I knew that wearing the hat and the long sleeve shirt would end up affecting my running by mile 3 or so, and it did. I wanted to stay “festive” so I kept the hat on and just enjoyed the run to the coast. By about mile 8 I started to slow down. I passed one man who was watching the race (he was probably 10-15 years older than me) and he said “hurry up viejito!” I guess the Santa beard I had grown for the race made me look a bit older than I am.

I wasn’t the only one who had an outfit on. Just don’t ask me what some of these had to do with Christmas…

 

A look at some of the toys that runners donated to children in the area.

A look at some of the toys that runners donated to children in the area.

Santa To The Sea Outfit

Santa To The Sea Outfit

Santa To The Sea Outfit, pacer

Santa To The Sea Outfit, pacer

I still felt pretty decent but set a new goal since my PR pace was pretty much out the door. This would be the first half marathon where I would run the entire thing without walking. During last year’s Santa to the Sea race I used a run/walk strategy so walked some every single mile. In the Ojai Half Marathon I walked large segments of the hill closest to the lake and during the Surfer’s Point Half Marathon I walked part of a hill around mile 11.

As I approached the last two miles of the race I kept pushing to not walk and my running pace slowed even further. I tried not to worry about people passing me during those miles and just kept moving. There was one runner who was near me most of the race until I surged on a bridge overpass and she lagged behind. She finally caught up with me around mile 12.5. It was nice to see a sort of familiar face but with about 200 yards left I decided that I didn’t want anyone to pass me at the end so I went into high gear and got my legs moving faster. My knees felt a bit wobbly, kind of like walking on stilts, but I was able to pick up some speed for the finish. When I later checked out the race photos I could see that the same runner was on my heels the whole time to the finish line.

After the race I walked around and made my way to the farmer’s market near the finish line. I grabbed a bag of honey roasted salted almonds and munched on them until I hopped on the bus back to the starting line. I chatted with the person sitting next to me on the bus and it was great hearing about his upcoming races and sharing that I was going to do my first ultra. It also set in as a bit of a reality check in that a 32 mile race would be almost a full half marathon distance longer than any of my previous training runs. I decided that I would drop down to the marathon race instead and look for an ultra race later in 2015. This would allow me to learn from the marathon trail run distance and see what additional challenges the long distance would provide.

I’m really excited about continuing my training for the Sean O’Brien Marathon and I think that it will be cool to do my first marathon and have it include over 7,000 feet of elevation gain. It’s going to be a beast of a race and I’m looking forward to it. I checked out the list of who will be racing that day and some awesome trail runners like Magdalena Boulet (@runboulet) (a strong favorite for trailrunner of the year, especially after her recent win at The North Face Endurance Challenge), Timothy Olson (@timmyolson_run), Chris Vargo (@TheVargo) and Nadia Ruiz (@IrongirlNadia) (only Latina to have run over 100 marathons by age 30) are signed up to participate in the different races. I’ll also get to finally meet and share the trails with my Twitter friend Marvin Tabangay (@sketch678) who is doing the 50k race.

If you’re reading this then the odds are you’re also into running and I hope we connect out on the roads or trails. Feel free to follow me on Strava.

Speaking of Strava, here’s the little “2014 Strava” video that is autogenerated for subscribers. It has some cool moments from this year.

What are your running plans for the year?

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Surfer’s Point Half Marathon 2014 Race Report

View before the race

After tackling the XTERRA Point Mugu 18K Trail Race in October, I decided to do the Santa to the Sea Half Marathon in December next. But that left me with two months without races and I got impatient. I was looking through my timeline on the Strava site when I saw that tri-athlete Anthony Grey was in his last weeks of training for the Surfer’s Point Full Marathon. After that I signed up for the half marathon or the race to be held on Nov. 16, 2014.

One of the features of the race is that when you cross the finish line you get a nice beer and some real tacos. Who can say no to tacos?

For most of the summer and early fall I’ve been doing almost all trail long runs so I had to start hitting the roads for a couple of weeks to start getting used to the hard pounding of asphalt and concrete. Ideally I could have used a couple of more weeks with long runs in the 10+ mile range but after the hard trail runs of the last few months I felt that I was “half-marathon ready” in terms of the endurance needed to complete one. I’ve also been slowly increasing the number of miles I’ve been running per week and am not hitting the low 30’s.

Course description
The Surfer’s Point Half Marathon is run next to the Surfer’s Point area of the beach in Ventura. When I train for road races I usually do a lot of training along much of the course. That really made things pretty nice. I knew that this would be a mostly flat course and was familiar with most of the twists and turns. For people who haven’t run on Pacific Coast Highway, things can get a little scary when you’re realize you’re actually running on the highway for about 5 miles of the race. The first time I did a training run on that segment some months back my wife was more than a little concerned. But it’s pretty safe out there.

Race Day
It was a beautiful and cool morning. The weather’s been a bit variable lately so I wasn’t sure just how cold it would be in the morning. I did something different this time and put my bib on my shorts instead of on my shirt. That way if things were cold enough I would just put a long sleeve compression shirt under my running shirt. Or I would just wear the compression shirt. Either way, I didn’t want to waste my time re-pinning the bib and worrying about that. I ended up being fine with a regular tech t-shirt, shorts and some compression socks. I think the socks made the difference in keeping me comfortably cool. Other people at the race were wearing garbage bags to stay warm and others were layered up and wearing caps.

Ventura Beach

Beach view on race day

That’s one of the times where my “extra padding” served a good purpose and I didn’t have to carry around a bunch of extra clothes to stay warm. Before the race there was a huge line at the port-o-potties so I got my warm-up in by jogging to the Crowne Plaza hotel and using their fine restroom facilities.

I found Anthony there at the race and chatted with him a bit then filmed the beginning of the Marathon race which he ran and was 15 minutes before the start of the half marathon.

Meeting up with Anthony Grey

Meeting up with Anthony Grey before the race

Start to mile 3
After the Marathon runners were off and I made my run to the Crowne Plaza hotel, I started lining up for the race. There were pacers for the 2:15 (two hours and fifteen minutes) and 2:30 paces. I lined up closer to the 2:15 pacer since I was shooting for a 2:20 final. I set my Nike Sportswatch so that it was ready to record the run and waited for two waves to go off then we went.

Ready to race

Ready to race

The first half mile ticked off and we seemed to be going way to fast. My watch read that we were going at a sub-9 minute per mile pace which was almost a minute and a half per minute per mile too fast. I hung just behind the 2:15 pacer for the next couple of miles. I still felt as if I was going out too fast so I slowed it down a bit. No use burning out early in the race. By the end of mile three I had hit a 10:30 minute per mile pace average which was still too fast.

This segment of the race starts at Promenade Park just south of Surfer’s Point then it passes by Surfer’s Point and goes up the bike path towards Main St. and hangs a left towards Emma Woods State Park and past the park.

Miles 4 to 6
This segment of the race was entirely on the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH). I’ve found that some of the road there is very rough and it slows me down since I have some foot “drag” to my stride. You also have to be hyper vigilant in this part since cars can shoot right past you as you run. Between miles four and five there’s a turnaround and you can see how far other people are in front of you. Somewhat close to that turnaround, I saw the 2:15 pacer and I was even farther behind now. However, I did keep up a decent pace and hit the 10K (6.1 miles) mark at one hour 8 minutes which was a little faster than the overall pace I was going for.

Miles seven to nine
Miles seven to nine took us back past Emma Wood State Park and past the starting line. I was now off an average of 30 seconds per minute off my intended pace. The 2:30 pacer and bunch passed me up and my time goals were quickly going down the train. I still felt pretty decent physically. The compression socks helped my legs feel together. Unfortunately the high winds that were expected in the afternoon, started making an early appearance.

Miles ten to the finish
This is pretty much where I started falling apart. The winds weren’t horrible but they slowed me down and at this point I was feeling tired, more like stressed that my body had been pushing hard for the past two hours. There’s a mile stretch where there’s what race director Bill Escobar called a “false flat” that was not actually flat such so that I started walking parts. We’re talking about a measly couple of degrees of elevation gain. The plan was to conserve a little energy and leave some for the final miles.

This little road, Vista Del Mar, is off the highway and is kind of hidden away. The pavement is uneven in parts and not a single car went by. I wan’t exhausted yet but my motivation was dipping and this little road could have been a great place to just take a nice long walk. Then I remembered ultrarunner David Goggins and his crazy determination to get things done including finishing the Badwater 135 mile foot race several times and winning crushing 24-hour races. Goggins is a Navy Seal and he runs and does Ironman triathalons for charity to support the families of war veterans. In some interviews he says that he doesn’t even like to run or do exercise. He says he runs because people are interested in seeing people suffer so he does races where there’s a lot of that so he can raise money. If he can run all those miles of suffering to raise money then I could certainly stop walking and run up some of this little hill. So I did.

Once I got to the top of the little hill I started picking up the pace. OK, I was going to miss the 2:20 time and missed running at a 10:50 overall pace but I still had a shot at a PR if I hustled to the finish line. I kept a steady pace then picked it up more towards the end and came in at 2 hours 33 minutes (2:33:22), a new PR by a couple of minutes. I’m glad I was able to push through the frustration of falling behind my initial goals and was still able to salvage the PR.

Finish line photo

Finish line photo

I kept on my feet for a few minutes after the race then grabbed some tacos and a soda and sat on high concrete container/bench along the beach walk. I was able to take down the first taco but my stomach wasn’t ready for the second. I hung out for a while and greeted Anthony after he finished the race. He did really well, coming in 7th place.

A little after heading out from the race I drove into In-N-Out and my stomach was able to handle that a bit easier. It’s not the healthiest but my body craves salt and protein after a long run or race The double double combo hit the spot!

Takeaways
In getting ready for the Santa to the Sea race I will make sure to get in some longer tempo runs and some long intervals so I can better handle the long-term high intensity pace.

You can view my race stats on Strava here and feel free to follow me there.

 

 

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XTERRA Point Mugu 18K Trail Race Report – 2014

starting line XTERRA Point Mugu Trail Race 2014

After the last two weeks of abnormally hot weather on the Central Coast, things finally cooled down and my running heated up some at the 2014 XTERRA Point Mugu 18K trail race. The race took place today, October 12, 2014, at Point Mugu State Park in Malibu, just a few miles south of Oxnard. It’s been a year and a half since I first started my fitness journey and about a year since running became a big part of that trek. My first trail race was the XTERRA Malibu Creek 22K which was extremely challenging, so much so that I immediately signed up for the Bulldog 25K which pretty much extends the XTERRA race by a couple of miles. After the Bulldog race I pretty much knew I’d run the XTERRA Point Mugu race. In training for the Bulldog race I did a training run on the Point Mugu 11K course and loved it.

Race Day

As I drove out to Malibu from Santa Paula, there was a huge fog bank just as I got on PCH and figured that the fog could add a huge factor to the race. What if the course was so fogged in that people started getting lost? I didn’t have to ponder that question much as I drove a couple of more miles and the fog lifted.

parking at XTERRA Point Mugu Trail Race

I wondered what the parking would be like and saw that cars had already gone up quite a ways on PCH so I kept driving to see if there would be more spaces on the east side of the highway, south of the trailhead but there were actually many more cars on that side so I swung around and parked up on the west side back north on PCH. It wasn’t that long a walk so I was glad I had left early enough to beat most of the traffic. As I was researching the course and doing my training runs, I couldn’t quite figure out where the start or finish lines were. It turns out the start is up fairly close to the highway and the finish is just at the start/end of the Ray Miller trail.

I got my t-shirt, bib and timing chip. The line was fairly short so that was good. I put my wallet away and tucked my t-shirt onto the back of my hydration pack. I had parked far enough that I didn’t feel the urge to go all the way back to the car to leave the shirt there. I had seen the t-shirt design the day before the race and it was cool but I could tell it was cotton. I told my wife today that when runners see cotton shirts our instinct is to scoff at them because tech tees are the way to go nowadays. The race announcer made a joke about it after the race and said that in races/years to come there would be tech tees and might also sprinkle in some business suits. Not exactly sure what that means but he got that people weren’t too thrilled with the cotton. I like it though because it’s purple. I read a book about running phenom Steve Prefontaine and even after he had passed away, people would still refer to him in the present tense such as “Pre likes to wear a lot of purple.” Well, Jesse likes to wear a lot of purple as well.

Checkin line at XTERRA Point Mugu Trail Race 2014

After putting my bib and timing chip on, I proceeded to search for the port-o-pottys. One great benefit of actually training at the race course is that I knew there were a couple of loos just up the hill. As I hoped, one was available and there was no line. Score! Apparently things were a bit behind schedule so we didn’t get started exactly at 7:30 a.m. as planned. There was a guy standing near me who I recognized from a previous race. He is a friendly and chats with people around him. He’s in his 60’s and he gets the job done when the running starts. We didn’t wait too long and then the first wave of us 18K runners took off. I stayed back with the second wave and 4 minutes later we were off as well.

Mile 1 – 2

As I mentioned earlier, the starting line is up near the highway, just where there is a little downhill onto a cemented area. When I did my training runs going up that little area after 6, 7 or 11 miles would seem really long so I was glad we would start running down that thing. The cement turns to trail fairly quickly then we pass the Ray Miller Trailhead and continue on until we get to a dry creek crossing where people were bunched up and actually walking down and up the little creek. That was at about mile 0.3. After that I hiked and walked some as the elevation is starting to increase and my right calf was a little cranky. One strategy here is to burn one’s way up to the front and prepare for the single track but today I knew that would be a bad idea for me.By the time we got to the dry waterfall area around mile 0.8 people were still kind of bunched up. I was on the heels of the person in front of me but it wouldn’t have made much sense to pass her there as things weren’t moving that fast. We were climbing a steep and rocky single track trail so I just made the most of this reduced speed and tried to keep my heartrate down as I pressed on.

View from the Loop Trail in Point Mugu State Park

View from the Loop Trail in Point Mugu State Park (taken during training run)

By mile 1.3 or so we went back to a wider trail and eventually got to the trail split where La Jolla Canyon Trail connects with the Loop trail. At this point the 18K racers bear left and the 11K racers continue on the La Jolla Canyon trail. The 11K race start was half an hour after us. At this point I was able to run at my own pace and passed a few runners on the downhills that lead to the Mugu Peak Trail where we start some serious climbing. For me serious climbing means power hiking. During training runs I’d stop maybe three times during this ascent and take photos, take down some water and break open a GU pack. This time I stopped for about 10 seconds to let my heartrate go down and kept pushing on. Some of this climb gets up to the 20%+ grade range so yeah, no running for me there. I usually have music going to help motivate me but I didn’t feel like messing with my phone or using my iPod but I was still good.

Miles 3 – 6

At mile three we hit the trail split where one can either continue on the Mugu Peak Trail or make the ascent to Point Mugu Peak which is a 266 climb to the flag at the top. During training runs I took the detour up to the peak to get some additional elevation in. The race course continues on the Mugu Peak Trail and there is a nice downhill section here. I started flying down the hill but it might have been a bit early to open up and by the time I got to the Chumash Trail where Mugu Peak Trail ends my legs felt kind of heavy. That wasn’t good since we were barely at mile 4.

View from the east side of the Loop Trail at Point Mugu Park.

View from the east side of the Loop Trail at Point Mugu Park. Sandstone Peak is in the far distance. (from a previous training run)

The next little stretch on the Chumash trail follows a little single track which is more of a winding rut about a foot wide. It is just wide enough to run in but hard to do so at high speed. After a while this gets a bit tiresome and I slowed down a bit here even though it was downhill. Around mile 5 the rut track ends as it merges onto another segment of the Loop Trail which eventually widens. In previous training runs this part was really hard to run on because it’s a big open valley and I didn’t find it particularly inspiring. In days leading up to the race I tried to come up with some kind of story about the area to help motivate me to run this section. Skyrunner/billy goat Kilian Jornet writes about how he often makes up fantastic stories to keep him moving when things are not quite that exciting. The only thing I could think of was the scene in Gladiator when Maximus is hauling ass on his horse to save his wife and family but that didn’t quite end very well in the movie. I ended up just going with a run/walk strategy and that helped me run at least run parts of it.

Miles 7 – 9

Just passed mile 6 the course turns onto the Overlook Trail which is also part of the Backbone Trail. The Backbone Trail goes along the Santa Monica Mountain range for 60+ miles from Oxnard all the way to Santa Monica. The first part of this Overlook Trail stretch is a big climb. It’s not uncommon to see mountain bikers pushing their bikes up the fire road on the steepest parts. Just as I got onto the Overlook Trail the gentleman who had been chatting with others passed me and started to pull away. He had a group of other racers with him and they were happily chatting away. I know that I’m not the fastest guy out on the trails and often end up at the back of the pack during a tough race but these are my people. It wasn’t an easy race for anyone at this point of the race but everyone was pushing on and helping each other with a shared energy.

I tried to run what I could here, at least to beat my training times which were done at a moderate pace. After reading Matt Fitzgerald’s book “80/20: Run Stronger and Race Faster By Training Slower” I decided to try that approach in training for this race. My takeaway from the book was that if I could run more miles, more elevation, then I could improve my racing time. In order to increase volume and elevation I would have to train more at an easy pace. So during training I would walk a lot of uphill portions and just focus on keeping my climbing form. I did some high intensity workouts but either kept them short or mixed them in with easy pace work. In the weeks leading up to the race I was able to get in an average of 2,500 ft elevation gain per week and ended up running over 100 miles in September. For more “advanced” trail runners, these numbers are super modest but they are a decent increase for me and I think that helped me a great deal with this race. The last part of Overlook Trail opens up to a great view of the Pacific Ocean and it’s a great feeling because the next section leads to an even more beautiful section of the course, the Ray Miller Trail.

Miles 10 – Finish

Ray Miller Trail at Point Mugu State Park. This 2.7 mile segment took us back down to the XTERRA Pt Mugu Trail Race finish.

Ray Miller Trail at Point Mugu State Park. This 2.7 mile segment took us back down to the XTERRA Pt Mugu Trail Race finish. (Taken during training run)

The last 2.7 miles of the race course take place on the Ray Miller Trail which is also part of the larger Backbone Trail network. The Ray Miller Trail is a series of single track switchbacks which wind down to the finish line. Oh, and you can run the heck out of this portion if you have any gas left in your tank. As dead as my legs felt at mile 4 they were reborn when I started shooting down this part of the course. I managed to catch up and pass several racers including the chatty bunch and was glad to see that non racing hikers were polite enough to let me pass them without having to slow down much. My legs were bouncy and were fully ready to cooperate with the trail. There were a couple of times when my brain told me that maybe I should slow down and take a breather but I didn’t listen to that voice and ran at faster than my 5K pace. With less than a tenth of a mile to go I caught up to the two people in front of me but there was no space to pass so I had to shift into a lower gear and that led us to the finish line about .1 seconds apart. finish line at XTERRA Point Mugu 2014 Trail Race

My best time during my training runs was 2 hours 59 minutes and today I was able to finish the race in 2 hours 33. I was last in my age group but did race faster than some younger folks. All in all, I was happy with my performance. The weather was great, no GI issues and last but not least, there was beer at the end! You can see the full results here. I think that the 80/20 training worked for me and now I have a real thirst to rack up elevation gain feet during workouts. I started using Strava.com to track workouts and am following some top runners. Now I can see how these elites don’t just show up and race hard – they train hard. You can follow me on Strava.com here.

So the big question is, “what’s next?” The answer is, I don’t know yet but am looking forward to something challenging and fun. We’ll see where that ends up.

Posted in Health, Training, Ventura County | 4 Comments