Sunday, December 2, 2012


2012 has been an incredible year of running.  Many of my wonderful experiences are described in other posts, but beyond what is expressly written here, 2012 was my introduction to ultra running, to the ultra running community and to the SoCal Coyotes.  It is a year I'll never forget and which I know cannot be replicated, nor should it be.  Next year will be different, not better and hopefully not worse -- just different.

Besides having a great time, I had a number of great races, including my fifth decade of sub-three hour marathons, my first sub-three at the Pikes Peak Ascent and my best ever finish at Mt. Baldy.  Towards the end of this year I willfully tested my own limits, and boy did I ever find them.  I overtrained and over raced.   At the end of November, I tried to run under 6:30 at the JKF 50, and then come back to run the tough Red Rock 50 just eight days later.  The results were predictable, a crash at 31 miles at JFK and a DNF at Red Rock.  I'm thoroughly exhausted but apparently escaped with nothing worse than a bone bruise on my big toe.  A fitting end to the year.

Now it is time to rest for the month of December.  I'll let that toe heal, let the rest of my body regenerate, and get my head back into running.  Should be ready to go again on January 1, 2013.

Thanks to my fellow SoCal Coyotes, including but by no means limited to Jack Rosenfeld, Jimmy Dean Freeman, Kate Martini Freeman, Marshall Howland, Brian Fuerst, Dave and Nicole Chan, Cassidy Case, Will Sipes, Tiffany Guerra, Simren Dulai, Helen Wu, Erin Chavin, Kim Elliot, Amy Berkin-Chavez, Josh Spector, Meganne Kanatani, Andee Torng and Alison Chavez.   You made this the best year ever, and I cannot thank you enough!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Loch Ness Marathon 2012

      This is a tough one to write about.  In one sense, it was a smashing success.  I ran 2:55:50, finished 25th overall, first in my age group, and even won a £100 gift certificate to a local running store, along with a beautiful quaich.  I did a heck of a lot better than the last time I ran the race, in 2008, when I was forced to drop out at about mile 10 with atrial fibrillation.

First Place 50 and Over
Quaich (Scottish Whiskey Cup)
       On the other hand, this was the toughest and least pleasant race I can remember running.  None of that had to do with the course or the weather; it was entirely my fault.  I simply was not mentally nor physically ready.  I came through the first half of the race in about 1:24:00, and faded badly after that.  From mile 20 or so on, I had a bad cramp in my left calf.  I walked through the last three aid stations.

The Finish Line

    But most importantly, I had the support of my friends on a tough day.  And, I got to see Scotland again, the most beautiful country in the entire world. I can't wait to go back.

Whitebridge, near Loch Ness
Me and Stan Carmack in the distance

Point of Sleat on the Isle of Skye
Scotland is the most beautiful place on Earth

The 47th Annual Mt. Baldy Run to the Top, September 3, 2012

      Mt. Baldy has long been one of my favorite races.  The seven mile course starts at the parking lot for Mt. San Antonio Ski Lift, elevation about 6,000 feet, and finishes at the very top of the mountain, at 10,064 feet above sea level.  The course plays right into my strengths.  With the exception of the first half mile, it is all uphill, but the trial is not overly technical.  If I ever have to pick a course for a match race, this will be the course I choose.

The drive out to Mt. Baldy is often beautiful

 The Start Line: Number 552 is Robert Leonardo, a highly accomplished local runner about my age who almost always finishes ahead of me.  This is only the second time I bested him.  
      I had a good race at Mt. Baldy this year.  Usually, I start out rather slowly, and am in about 50th place or so at the first mile.  This year, I ran harder at the start and was in perhaps 10th place at mile one.  By mile 4, the Notch, I was in 5th, and by the end I was in 4th overall, third male.  That's my highest finish in about ten attempts at this course, although my time of 1:16:16 was about four minutes slower than last year.  It is also the first time I've been beaten by a woman on this course!  The first woman, Annie O’Donnell, finished third overall, just ahead of me.

Mile 6 or so

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Pikes Peak: A Tale of Two Great Races

The Pikes Peak Ascent is like no other race I have ever run.  It begins in Manitou Springs, Colorado, at an elevation of 6,300 feet, and climbs 13.3 miles, mostly along the Barr Trail, finishing at the top of Pikes Peak at an elevation of 14,050 feet above sea level.  The average grade is about 11%.

But cold statistics such as these cannot capture the essence of the race.  It is a beautiful course, with incredible views over Manitou Springs, Colorado Springs and the plains beyond, yet natural beauty it not what brought me back to Pikes Peak three times, nor is it what makes me want to come back again next year to run the full marathon.

I came to Pikes Peak for the challenge, and specifically for the challenge of the last three miles of the race.  At the 10.2 mile mark, the course passes through 11,950 feet elevation at an aid station called A-Frame.  The final three miles of the race is at 12,000 feet or higher.   Those last three miles are brutal, especially for anyone who, like me, lives and trains at sea level.  This year, it took me 2:00:36 to reach A-Frame, and another 58:16 to cover the final segment, a pace of just under 20 minutes a mile.  I ran almost the entire first ten miles, but those last three I was mostly walking, with some very slow jogging mixed in.  Even so, this was my best performance on those last three miles.

I finished in 2:58:53, nearly ten minutes faster than last year and three minutes faster than in 2002.  I placed 39th overall, and won the 50-54 age group.  More importantly, I was completely exhausted at the finish line, leaving nothing on the course.  At the end, I was showing the first signs of altitude sickness, and took ten minutes of oxygen before riding in the shuttle down the mountain.  No, I wasn't in any real danger nor pain, just completely exhausted by my encounter with Pikes Peak.  I had taken a chance, run as hard as I could, and gauged my conditioning perfectly.  But the final result also depended on a measure of  luck.  Racing requires that you approach that fine edge between running too easy and running too hard, and whether you go over that edge is a function of things that are sometimes impossible to measure.  That is what racing is all about -- running the hardest, smartest race you can run, and accepting the outcome, whatever that may be.

Watch Data from Pikes Peak Ascent 2012

Jack had a very different experience.  He took the same chance that I did, but this time the mountain won.  There is no objective reason that should have happened.  Jack is in the best shape of his life.  In the first seven months of 2012, he ran his lifetime bests at 10k, half marathon (1:23:07, beating his prior best in 2001), marathon (first time under three hours), 50k and 50 mile.  He was well-rested for the race, and he didn't go out too fast, nor make any other objective mistake.  For whatever reason, the altitude and the mountain just got the better of him that day.

Approaching the Summit: the Start Line is Beyond the Horizon
It took Jack 5:18 to make it to the top of Pikes Peak.  He sat down for a moment to catch his breath before starting the descent, looking utterly exhausted, and I asked him how he was feeling.  He shot back, "I'm fine," with a spark in his eyes, clearly not interested in discussing the matter further.  He probably thought I was thinking of suggesting that he drop out, which was exactly what I was thinking.  But he had no intention whatsoever of dropping out, and was not interested in hearing any negative thoughts from me.

Jack finished the race in just over nine hours, a respectable time for some, but terrible for him.  Nevertheless, he took the opportunity presented by his slower pace to chat with and encourage fellow runners, and to thank the volunteers.    Somehow, he managed to run the final half mile or so, and to finish the race with a big smile on his face.  Not to say he looked good; it was easy to see how badly he had lost his battle with Pikes Peak.

He spent half an hour recovering in the tent before walking back to the car, and spent the balance of the day in the hotel room.  By eight or nine in the evening he was pretty much fully recovered and talking about next year's race.  No harm done.

It is so easy to be gracious when things go your way.  It is easy to finish strong when things go your way.  But, if you race correctly, by definition, things will not always go your way.  The true measure of a runner -- of a racer and of a man -- is how you respond when you do everything right and things still do not go your way.  I ran a great race at Pikes Peak; so did Jack.  The difference is that he had the opportunity to show the kind of runner and the kind of man that he is.  I hope that I perform half as well when I am confronted with that situation.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

A Good Workout at Westridge

The majority of my training is slow and comfortable, and that seems to work well for me.  Once in a while, however, it is good to get out and run harder.   I am very pleased with this morning's 14 mile run on firetrails, nearly 2,000 feet of climbing and an average pace just under 7:00 minutes per mile.  Here is the watch data:

Watch Data for July 14, 2012

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Palisades Will Rogers 10k

The first annual Palisades Will Rogers 10k, held on July 4, 1978, was my first road race.   Below are my results for each year since.    

Year           Place    AG       Time          Comments
2012          6th         1st        37:13         First year of longer course -- 500 ft = c. 35 seconds
2011          12th       2nd       37:43
2010          --            --          --               DNR: on crutches after knee surgery
2009          --            --          --               DNR: A-fib
2008          unk        unk       55:30         A-fib 1.5 miles into the race
2007          --            --          DNF          A-fib at start
2006          9th         2nd      36:54
2005          unk        unk       unk            A-fib 1 mile into race
2004          13th       2nd      36:13
2003          unk        unk       48:00         A-fib ("asthma")
2002          unk        unk      34:57
2001          13th       unk       37:17
2000          9th         unk       35:58
1999          17th       unk       37:49
1998          unk        unk       38:53
1997          unk        unk       39:06
1996          unk        unk       37:17
1995          ---          ---          ---             DNR: on crutches after knee surgery
1994          unk        unk       38:11
1993          unk        unk       36:31
1992          8th         unk      34:46
1991          unk        unk       38:20
1990          ---          ---          ---            DNR:  recovering from appendicitis
1989          9th         unk       34:35
1988          unk        unk       33:45
1987          3rd        unk      32:10      Best Time and Highest Place
1986          8th         unk       34:06
1985          unk        unk       34:50
1984          6th         unk       33:20
1983          --           ---           ---           DNR: in Europe
1982          --           ---           ---           DNR: knee injury
1981         5th         1st         32:50     
1980         13th       1st         32:37
1979         unk         unk        unk         No info, other than that I ran
1978         23rd(?)   1st        35:06      My first ever road race

My First Ever Road Race

Friday, June 8, 2012

A Decade Lost, and a New Life Found

I began running in late 1974 or early 1975, at the age of 12.  For the next 25 years, I enjoyed good health, both in terms of running injuries and more generally.  Starting in about 2000, however, I experienced a decade in which I was plagued by a series of health issues that, while not life-threatening, seemed certain to end my competitive running days, and quite likely to end my running life altogether.  This is the story of that lost decade, and my improbable recovery.

From time to time throughout my running career, I had had days when I just couldn't perform.   I'd try to run a hard workout or race, but just couldn't do it.  I'd get out of breath, nothing extraordinary about that, except that it would happen far too early and with far too little exertion.  Those days were rare, and when they occurred I chalked them up to some sort of minor and intermittent asthma.  I can't even recall the first time it happened, but it did happen every so often.

As of February 5, 2000, according to a note in my running chart, I believed I had "reactive airways syndrome," a form of asthma brought on by irritants in the air.   I was just getting back into training at that time, although I did just manage to break three hours -- barely -- at the Napa Marathon on March 5, 2000.  For the next 18 or so months, I continued to get back into shape, although I continued to experience these asthma episodes a bit more frequently.

My performances began to grow increasingly uneven.  On February 17, 2002, I ran 2:43:10 at the Austin Marathon.  On September 22, 2002, I ran a 10k in 34:54.  On December 14, 2002, however, I ran the same distance in 38:10.  At or around that time, I was officially diagnosed with "exercise induced asthma."  A notation in my running chart on July 9, 2003, for example, blames a bad workout on asthma brought on by stress.  Notations of "asthma" begin appearing more and more frequently at about that time.  Nevertheless, on days when I didn't have an attack, I was still running well, including a PR of 1:12:59 at Mt. Baldy, finishing 5th overall on September 1, 2003.

It all came to a head in January of 2004.  I was just finishing up training for the Austin Marathon, scheduled for February 15, 2004.  My goal was to break 2:40 for the first time.  On January 25, 2004, I ran my last key workout, a 14 mile run on the bike path in Marina Del Ray in 1:21:47, about 5:50 per mile, with Clyde, who was injured at the time, riding along side me on his bike.  I distinctly remember standing in the parking lot after that run, feeling warm but not fully exhausted, thinking that I had beaten this asthma thing and was ready to run under 2:40 in three weeks' time.   Five days later, however, everything changed.

On January 29, 2004,  I went for my annual physical exam.  My GP, Dr. David Grossman, does a very thorough job.  Among  other things, he takes an EKG, and on that day he found that I was in atrial fibrillation, meaning that the top two chambers of my heart where not beating normally but instead fibrillating or fluttering wildly.  Dr. Grossman explained -- correctly -- that I was probably going in and out of A-fib on a regular basis, and that what we all thought were asthma attacks was really an arrhythmia.   My heart wasn't performing properly, and I started to breath harder.  The doctors had never seen one of these episodes before, and therefore had no reliable way to know exactly what was going on.

Within about two hours of that EKG, I was sitting in the office of a cardiologist who was telling me that I shouldn't walk up stairs for six weeks, let alone consider running a marathon.  Moreover, I was scheduled for all sorts of tests to see what else, if anything, was wrong with my heart.  An ultra sound, a CT scan and a nuclear stress test -- and probably several other tests I have since forgotten -- confirmed  the diagnosis of A-fib, but also that my heart had other detectible defects.  Four days before the Austin marathon, the six week ban on running was lifted and I was cleared to compete, with the proviso that I was to drop out if I had an A-fib incident.

I'd been running long enough to know that I still had a chance to break 2:40 at Austin.  I'd completed my last hard workout before the diagnosis, and the week or so of forced rest was unlikely to harm my conditioning.  It was probably a good thing.  And, I felt better knowing what had been causing my poor performances.  I'd never felt completely sure that I had asthma, and part of me wondered if it wasn't all psychological.

Paul paced me through the first half of the marathon, and we came through exactly where I wanted to be, just about 6:03 per mile.  I felt great.  At mile 16 or so, however, I began to feel a tightness in my left hip and was forced to drop out around 17 miles.  It turned out to be a stress fracture, and I was out for six weeks.  On March 27, 2004, I jogged a single mile, and felt very sore and weak.  I ran ten miles for the first time on May 25, 2004.

Although my hip healed in an orderly fashion, my heart did not.  Instead, it got worse and worse.  On July 4, 2004, I ran a 36:13 on the tough Palisades Will Rogers course, but a week later I ran 52:10 for the same distance on the flat Keep LA Running course.  I'd never run over 40 minutes in a race before, let alone over 50.

I tried a variety of medications for A-fib, some of which seemed to work for a little while, but none of which lasted for long.  I had my first catheter ablation on February 24, 2005.  The doctor uses the arteries in the leg to gain access to the heart, then uses a laser to ablate -- or burn -- a portion of the surface of the heart.  The goal is either to kill or isolate the cells that give off the signals causing A-fib.  The procedure is not nearly as bad as it sounds; I missed just a few days of running.

The first procedure -- much like the mediations -- worked for a while but then the A-fib came back.  And, on August 14, 2005, it became clear that my left knee wasn't doing so well either.  I'd torn a meniscus, and had arthroscopic surgery on August 30, 2005.  The surgery did little or nothing, and my knee was sore off and on through most of 2006.  Then, starting in March or April, 2007, the A-fib began coming back more regularly.

From 2007 through 2009 I was fighting both heart and knee problems.   I tried various medications for my heart, and for my knee, but nothing worked well or for long.  I tried two more ablation procedures, but the same temporary and unsatisfactory results.

On June 18, 2008, I decided to go to the UCLA emergency room when I felt like I might pass out at dinner with Wayne and Jack, after a 12 mile run near Camp Josepho.  On September 12, 2008, I went into A-fib while on the treadmill at the cardiologist's office.  On October 5, 2008, I was forced to drop out of the Loch Ness Marathon at the 11 mile mark when I went into A-fib.  On April 19, 2008, I tried to run the Nagano Marathon, but the night before I woke up and felt my heart beginning to flutter.  I took a beta-blocker at 4am or so, then tried to run the marathon in the morning, with predictable results.  I couldn't get my heart rate up high enough to run, and I crashed.  My running was a complete mess.

In retrospect, the turning point finally came on July 15, 2009, when I had my fourth ablation, but I certainly did not see it that way at the time.  That fourth ablation immediately and completely wiped out my A-fib, apparently for good -- it has been almost three years now.  But, that procedure had serious short term side effects.  For about five months, my heart rate would not come up above about 120 beats per minute no matter how hard I ran.  I couldn't run faster than a jog, and even that hurt.  I was completely miserable.

Earlier that year, I made plans to run the Victoria Marathon with Jack.  By race weekend, however, it was clear that I shouldn't attempt it.  Nevertheless, I decided to go on the trip.  Nothing wrong with that!  At the last minute, however, I made the foolish -- and, if you know me, completely predictable -- decision to run the marathon.  I ran 3:26:37, my worst time ever by nearly 20 minutes.  And, my knee was now shot.  At that point, it seemed like I would never run again.  My knee certainly would not allow it.

But, my heart rate slowly began to recover.  I know this from riding the exercise bike.  In fact, by early 2010, it seemed that my heart was working just fine.  Yet, my knee still would not allow me to run at all, and it resisted all the usual cortisone and Synvisc shots.  I began looking for an orthopedist who could suggest a way to get back to running.  Instead, I was told over and over that I'd never run again and, in fact, was a good candidate for a knee replacement, and everyone agrees you cannot run on an artificial knee.

Finally, Dr. William Hohl referred me to Dr. William Bugbee in San Diego.  Dr. Bugbee's initial opinion was that everyone else was correct and that I would never run again.  He explained that my knee joint was out of kilter, and had been for some time.  Ideally, the knee joint is level, so that the weight is spread out over the tibial plateau.  My knee was uneven, with all the pressure on the medial side, and as a result I had lost substantial cartilege both above and below the joint, and I had edemas (or small stress fractures) as well.   He suggested that I take up swimming.

I told Dr. Bugbee that the only thing I wanted was to run, that I wanted him to do whatever he could to make that happen and that I did not care if the chances of success were low.  After a few minutes of discussion regarding my lack of common sense and good judgement,  Dr. Bugbee suggested a procedure known as a high tibial osteotomy, or HTO, as the only chance I had of running again.

The concept of the HTO is simple.  The doctor breaks the tibia all the way through, takes a piece of bone from the hip, makes a wedge from that bone and inserts it into the tibia.  This is something like when a table is uneven, and we place a napkin under one leg as a sort of wedge.  But instead of placing something under the leg, an HTO is more like breaking the leg and inserting the wedge in the middle.  The x-ray at the bottom of the blog shows what my knee looks like now.

Dr. Bugbee performed the HTO on June 24, 2010, at Scripps in San Diego.  I was on crutches for eight weeks, and on a cane for three weeks after that.  I worked hard in rehab, but that did not change the fact that I had been off my feet for so long.  On January 1, 2011, I ran my first two miles, dead slow.  It was very, very difficult.  I was weak and, even worse, uncoordinated.

But from there on out my recovery was nothing short of miraculous.   I was ecstatic when I was able to run five miles comfortably, but soon enough I was running 10.  In fact, by July 31, 2010, I ran a 1:20:12 half marathon in San Francisco.  Just a few months before that, I thought I'd never run 13 miles again, let alone at anything like that pace.

It is now June 8, 2012, and my knee doesn't hurt at all.  My heart works just fine.  I haven't missed a day of running because of injury or illness in nearly 18 months.  In short order, I ran my first 50k, 50 mile and 100k.  I ran across the Grand Canyon, the run known as Rim to Rim to Rim.  I've had more fun than I can possibly describe, and enjoyed running more in the last 18 months than I did in the first 25 years of running combined.  If it doesn't last another day, or if I die tomorrow, I still count myself as incredibly lucky.

I have four people to thank for my recovery and return to running:

Dr. Shephal Doshi performed my fourth ablation, which finally cured my A-fib.  That procedure lasted longer than even the slowest marathon, as Dr. Doshi had to track down and ablate misbehaving cells in various areas of my heart.  Dr. Doshi also implanted a pacemaker in a friend of mine, who went on to win at least one age group national championship in the middle distances.  So, he saved my running life and my friend's as well.

Dr. William Bugbee at the Scripps Institute performed the HTO that miraculously cured my knee and, so far, has given me 18 months of pain free and virtually unlimited running.  You can see his handiwork at the bottom of this blog.

My physical therapist, Kelly Oneil, worked with me from just a few days after my surgery until I was back to running again.  The first day I met her in mid-2010, she asked me my goal.  I told her I wanted to break 3:00 at the Loch Ness Marathon in fall of 2012.  She must have thought I was mad, but she was very nice about it.

Finally, my training partner, Jack Rosenfeld, drove me home after my knee surgery in San Diego, visited me when I couldn't walk, walked with me when I couldn't run, jogged slowly with me when that was all I could do and ran with me as I became stronger.  I will never be able to re-pay him for his kindness.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Born to Run 100k

On the afternoon of Friday, May 18, 2012, about 150 runners, along with their friends and supporters, began arriving at the Chamberlin Ranch, just outside of Los Olivos, California, for the Born to Run Ultramarathon.  Any attempt to describe this bizarre and wonderful weekend will inevitably fall short, and leave out elements that others saw as central, but I will do my best.

Perhaps the best place to start is with our host and race director, Luis Escobar, known for his role in the book Born to Run, by Christopher McDougall.   Here is Luis, as he appeared for a few hours on Saturday morning (he was in constant motion, changing clothes and styles throughout the weekend).  

Our Gracious Host and Race Director, Luis Escobar
Luis likes to portray himself as a rough-and-tumble party animal, a real-life honey badger who couldn't give a damn.  At that start of the race, he reminded us that he hadn't promised us anything but dirt, and made us take the Caballo Blanco oath: "If I get lost, hurt, or die, it's my own damn fault." Then he started the race with a shotgun.  But Luis is easy to see through.  He's a wonderful, caring man, with a great sense of humor, who loves to have fun and make people happy.  He would be horrified if anyone actually got hurt at one of his races.  I would feel safer running with Luis in the Copper Canyon than I would running the LA marathon.

That being said, Luis does put on a wild and unique party.   He invited Tatto Mike, his childhood friend, to give tattoos.  Sorry Mike, but even if I were looking for a tattoo, I think I'd opt for a more sterile environment than a tent on the Chamberlin Ranch.  On Friday afternoon, there was Tarahumara ball race tournament.  A Japanese man in a Mexican wrestler mask started each race by firing a shotgun.  Luis' friends from Hawaii brought all sorts of goodies which he passed out as prizes.  At night there was a bonfire, and hula hoops, and alcohol of all sorts.  There was a band playing part of the night, and Mexican Ranchera music blasting from the speakers most of the rest of the time.  There was Tomo, the Japanese ultra runner who won the 100 mile race in a course record 17 hours.  There was a 78 year old woman, Patricia Devita, who power-walked the 100k.  Luis himself manned the grill at breakfast on Sunday morning, making banana pancakes and chorizo burritos.

The sign that welcomed us to the Chamberlain Ranch:
Greetings, and Welcome to the Chamberlin Ranch.  Now Be Nice or Go Home!
The one person who was missing from the weekend was Micah True, aka Caballo Blanco, who died unexpectedly a few weeks before.  Caballo, a good friend of Luis, ran the race last year, and had signed up to run the 100k this year.  His girlfriend Maria was there, however, along with his Tarahumara dog, Guadajuko.  I didn't get to meet Caballo himself, but I felt like I met his spirit -- but then again, I already felt as if I knew him in spirit.

The Chamberlin Ranch is desolate place, 10,000 acres of dusty double track roads, foxtails and scattered oak trees, with the occasional cow, wild turkey and snake thrown in for good measure.  We camped along a dirt road in a small valley.  Luis arranged for port-a-potties, and there were two hoses on either end of the camp sight, but that was it in terms of amenities.

Base Camp, in the Middle of Nowhere

Our Tents
On Friday night we shared a communal dinner with several others from the SoCal Coyotes: Lauren, Cassidy, Rigo and Kim.  By Saturday night, our group had grown to include Marshall, Alison and Tiffany, as well.  Lauren and Cassidy are experienced campers, and know how to cook outdoors. Rigo made salsa from scratch, roasting peppers on the grill.  Jack and I, well, we at least managed to bring a good collection of beer, chicken sausages and an assortment of other store-bought items.

The races -- 10 miles, 50k, 100k and 100 mile -- all began at 6am on Saturday morning.  The winner of the 10 mile finished at about 7am on Saturday, and the 100 mile runners were still coming in when I left around 10am on Sunday morning.  The course consisted of two ten mile loops, one West of the start line and one to the East, with the camp site in the middle.

Course Map
Jack and I ran the 100k, which means that we ran each of the 10 mile loops three times, plus a two mile "out and back" section at the end.  That meant we want through base camp a total of six times, giving us an opportunity to refill our water bottles, grab food and salt, and even change shoes, which we both did during the race.  Marshall, who ran the 50k himself, met us at our camp site the last three times, providing ice, Red Bull and whatever else we needed.

Race Necessities
My goal for the day was to cover the 100k course safely, and to finish with Jack.  The race did not start well for me.  I threw up repeatedly just 400 meters into a 100k race, no doubt an ultramarathon record that will stand for some time to come.  I think I know what caused it, and no, it wasn't from drinking too much the night before.  Putting that aside, I felt much better after about ten minutes or so, and had no trouble eating or drinking the rest of the race.  Jack didn't have a great day, either. While he didn't get sick, he just didn't have enough in his legs, and we ended up walking more than either of us had planned.  But none of that mattered in the slightest.

We achieved our goal for the day, finishing in just under 14 hours.  Along the course, we saw wild turkeys, a dead cow being eaten by vultures (the cow died while giving birth; I'll leave it others to post that picture),  a gopher snake, a man running the 100 mile in a jester's hat and an aid station run by the aptly named Wild Bill.

Six loops of ten miles each is 60 miles, so as I mentioned, the 100k course ends with a two mile out-and-back section.  The turn around point is marked by an mannequin wearing a mariachi hat.  Kevin, Alison and Marshall joined us for the final two miles.

Alison and Kevin were kind enough to accompany us for the last two miles.  Marshall (not in this photo, probably because he took it), paced us for the last 12 miles, after running his own 50k race.  He then paced a 100 mile runner for 10 more miles in the middle of the night.
Those of you who know me well will realize that this kind of event is outside my comfort zone.  I'm usually much more uptight and competitive, especially when it comes to running.  But trying new things and growing is what life is all about.  So thank you, Luis, for creating this event, and thank you, Jack for suggesting that I try it.  And thank you, Lauren, Cassidy, Rigo, Alison, Marshall, Kevin, Tiffany and Kim for your company.

Mile 61

At the Finish Line
Inappropriate re-hydration after the race

Jack and Luis

Watch Data: Does that course look anything like the map?

Jack and I tied for 8th/9th place in 13 hours and 54 minutes, not that time or place really mattered

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Ragnar Relay 2012

The Ragnar Relay is, among many other things, a marvel of organization.  597 relay teams, mostly of 12 runners each, run 203.5 miles from Huntington Beach to San Diego.  It takes most teams well over 24 hours to finish, and every team runs through the middle of the night, so every turn on the entire course must be marked with a sign placed where the runners can see them at night time, e.g., under a street light.  The race is divided into 36 legs, ranging from 2.9 to 11.1 miles each, with 35 exchange points along the way, each with a parking area for the teams' vans and almost all with port-a-potties.  Typically, each participant runs three legs, several hours apart.  Most teams use two vans, each carrying six runners, for a total of nearly 1,200 vans.  The Ragnar staff did an excellent job of organizing all those people and vans, over all those miles.
Each of the teams faces its own organizational challenges, but with Jack and Andee on our team, we were well-equipped in that area.  Teams must find the next exchange point and park the van in time to meet the incoming runner.   There is always some uncertainty about how long each runner will take, but one must err on the side of caution and get there early -- throughout the race, we saw several runners finish a difficult leg only to discovery that their teams had not yet arrived!  The incoming runner needs a few minutes to change into dry clothes before the van can depart for the next exchange point.  This means the vans are almost always in motion, and there is little time to stop for food or gas, let alone to pick up clean laundry!  The team vans are a chaotic collection of food, running gear and sweaty runners.

Our team competed in the "ultra" division, and thus consisted of just six runners, rather than the usual 12, with each of us running a total of six legs.  We elected to run two legs at a time, so we each had three separate runs, several hours apart.  Some of the other ultra teams tried running one leg at a time, meaning that each runner had six separate runs.  That wouldn't have worked well for me, as I brought fresh clothes for each of my legs.

Neil, Meganne, Steve, Dennis, Andee and Jack
This was the first time I had the opportunity to run with Andee and Meg.  They are both quite small, and not particularly swift.  Nevertheless, they attacked the course like pros.  They're up for any challenge, do not even think of complaining, and run hard from beginning to end.   I was proud to be on their team.

Neil and Dennis both had tough days.  Neil sprained an ankle early on, but hung in there to finish all his legs -- then missed his next two races.  Dennis, who had gamely agreed to fill in at the last minute, felt sick, but also hung in.

Jack, as usual, managed to exceed my high expectations.  He ran longer than any of us, including a tough leg in the Corona heat, similar to my first leg, yet somehow he resurrected himself to fly through his final leg in San Diego on Saturday morning.  And, as always, he did it with a smile from start to finish.

My first leg was a challenge, 12.5 miles in 95 degrees through Corona.  I felt ok for the first mile or two, but then the heat started to take its inevitable toll.  Running along at about 7:00 per mile went from feeling quite comfortable to moderately difficult, and, by mile 10 or so, quite difficult indeed.  I even walked a bit on two of the final uphills, and my overall pace was closer to 7:10 by the end.  Thankfully, the Ragnar staff compensated for the heat as best they could be providing three extra water stops along the way.

I also had two wildlife encounters in my first leg, one with a bee and one with a snake.  Most folks would much rather deal with the harmless bee rather than a potentially deadly snake, but not I.  I've always been mildly afraid of bees, and have often made a fool of myself by taking extraordinary evasive measures to avoid their tiny stingers.  Usually, my efforts are successful; this was only the third time in my life I've been stung.  Snakes, on the other hand, fascinated me as a young boy, and I've never been afraid of them, even when I probably should be.

But on this day, neither the menacing bee nor the not-so-menacing snake caused me any real trouble.  I didn't notice that the bee landed on my neck until it stung me.  The sting only hurt for a few minutes, and it gave me a great excuse in case I didn't run well, so I wasn't terribly bothered by it.  A short while later I saw the serpent, a harmless 1.5 foot gopher snake, slithering across the bike path.  On another day I would have stopped and had a look at him, perhaps urged him to move along into the bushes before some less snake-tolerant individual caused him some harm.

My second leg was at about 3:45am, by which time the temperature had dropped by 40 degrees.  I think I ran from Carlsbad into Lake San Marcos, based on my watch data, but all I remember was how cool, foggy and pleasant it was.  I ran 6:46 pace comfortably for 8.5 miles.

My final leg was just short of 17 miles, starting around noon in Fiesta Island and finishing in Chula Vista.  A couple of hours before I ran, I was wondering how I could complete 17 miles, other than at a jog.  I had decided to run no faster than 7:30 per mile no matter what, and was targeting 8:00 per mile average.  But then I saw Jack running his final leg, right before mine.  He blew through the midway point, looking great and close to 7:00 minute pace.  I have to admit that, as much as I love Jack and enjoy watching him succeed, I do get competitive with him.  Or maybe I don't want to be left behind.  Either way, I upped my expectations, and started out at 7:00 pace once again.  It wasn't until about 11 miles that I started to struggle, but I was able to maintain more or less, and finished at 7:07 average.

Ragnar took at least as much out of me as the American River 50 Miles.   No damage, but I was drained for an entire week.  Nevertheless, I'm already looking forward to the next one.  In the meantime, that idea of competing in a 50 miler keeps recurring.  I ran 38 miles at about 7:10 pace average in 24 hours.  Maybe I'm ready.

Monday, April 9, 2012

American River 50 Miler, April 7, 2012

I had never run 50 miles in a single day before this past Saturday, and I wasn't completely sure what to expect at the American River 50.  Most importantly, I was not sure how my body would react.  In the event, however, it was all rather straightforward.  Many ultra marathoners have trouble with their stomachs, but I was able eat and drink what I needed.  Jack ran with me the whole way; Phil and Paul crewed us.  I got into a good rhythm around 15 miles or so, and felt very comfortable until the last two or three miles, when Jack pushed me a bit on the final climb into Auburn.  Even then, however, I was ok, just a bit tired.  I felt fine the following day, not as sore as after the Napa Marathon, and was able to run three easy miles without too much trouble.

The strangest thing about running that far is trying to control the pace for so long.  I'm used to running shorter distances, and when I get to 15 or 20 miles, I am almost always approaching the finish.  There is no need to control the pace at that point; it is ok to spend whatever energy I have left.  No so in a 50 mile race.  You have to hold back for 30 or more miles before it is safe to let that competitive feeling take over.

The bigger question for me is how I would do if I ran 50 miles more competitively.  Up until now, I have not run over a marathon as a true race; the few times I've exceeded 26 miles I've focused on finishing and staying within myself.   After American River, however, I'm starting to consider racing at 50k or even 50 miles.  I still haven't decided, but it is starting to seem more reasonable.     

Monday, March 26, 2012

Octopus Trail in the Rain: March 25, 2012

A group of ten of us gathered at 6:30 am this morning at the Westridge Fire Road in Mandeville Canyon to run the "Octopus Trail."  The Octopus isn't really a single trail.  Rather, it is a collection of trails stitched together, crossing East to West from Mandeville Canyon, through Sullivan, Rivas, Will Rogers and finally Temescal, then returning by more or less the same route.  The 20 mile run has something like 5,200 feet of climbing and, of course, descending.  Like many runs in the Santa Monica Mountains, it traverses all sorts of different micro-climates with different vegetation and different terrains.

The run took something over six hours, but that includes about two hours of stops to re-group, eat, drink and, of course, take photos.  While it rained nearly the entire run, my new jacket kept me comfortable until very near the end, when the wind and rain finally penetrated the "water-proof" material.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Mt. Wilson in the Rain: March 17, 2012

It was 40 degrees and raining steadily when we began our run from Chantry Flats at 6:30 Saturday morning. The first few miles passed by pleasantly. Dom and Jack ran ahead up the narrow trail through the forrest. Kate and I chatted about running, competition and the fact that her dad was about to run his first marathon, at age 57, the following day. Annie ran a bit behind us.

The five of us re-grouped at the bench, perhaps half way up Mt. Wilson. I felt completely comfortable up to that point. While it had been difficult to get out of the car and step into the rain, I did have on a long-sleeve sweatshirt over my technical shirt, and a beanie. I remember feeling just fine within a minute of starting the run. It was a bit cold, but cold is good when you're running uphill.

From the bench on, however, I began to feel increasingly cold. Stopping at the bench didn't help, and after that I hung back and talked with Annie for the next section. As we approached the summit, Dom and I went ahead, and the increased effort kept me warmer. Towards the top, the trail turned into a small stream, and there was no choice but to allow my shoes to get completely soaked with the cold water. The rain turned into sleet intermittently.

I started to get worried about hypothermia at the top of Mt. Wilson, and even gave some consideration to bailing out and taking shelter in one of the buildings at the top, but decided to finish. The trail down Mt. Wilson was wet and narrow, and I'm a poor downhill runner in the best of conditions, so my pace was slow, and as a result I got even colder.

Shortly into the decent I started to feel the symptoms of mild to moderate hypothermia. About a mile from the top, I began hyperventilating uncontrollably, and my vision started to get a bit weak. Fortunately, Dom and Jack stayed with me. Dom, who knows the trail so well after winning the Angeles Crest 100 last year, took the lead, chatting and whooping. Jack stayed behind me, making sure I stayed on course.

I don't really remember that much of the decent. I know I felt a bit dizzy right before we got back to the cars. I got into dry clothes, and we headed off to Starbucks for coffee. Within a few hours, I felt almost completely better, although I was quite careful the next few days to stay extra warm. And, most importantly, next time I go out in weather like that -- and I have every intention of doing so as often as possible -- I'll dress for the occasion.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Five Decades of Sub Three Marathons

Apparently, I am now one of about 40 people who have run sub-three hour marathons in five different decades.

1. Mission Bay Marathon, January 14, 1979: 2:54:50.
2. LA Marathon March 9, 1986: 2:45:50.
3. LA Marathon, March 4, 1990, 2:41:49.
4. Austin Marathon, February 17, 2002, 2:43:10.
5. Napa Marathon, March 5, 2012, 2:59:15.

The photo at the left is from March 5, 2012

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Art of Running

My High School English teacher, Richard Daukas, suggested that running is an art form. I agreed with him then, and I agree with him now, more than 30 years later. Running allows me to express myself. Like other art forms, it has minimal utilitarian value. And, while some people like me feel driven to do it, many other people just don't "get it." That is ok. There is no need for everyone else to get it. But it is sure is nice when some people do.

As with other art form, running can bring joy both to the artist and, if done right, to an audience as well. Watching Kilian Jornet run down the Alps or the Pyrenees is like listening to Bach or Brahms. Kilian possesses incredible skills, but beyond that he displays an energy and shear joy of running that is a pleasure to watch.

While Kilian is perhaps the most skilled downhill runner on the planet, I've seen that energy and passion in runners of much more pedestrian talents. My friend and training partner, Jack Rosenfeld, exudes the same shear passion for running as Kilian, even though his abilities are more modest. It is my privilege to see him run on a regular basis. The photo show here is at the end of his first sub-three hour marathon. Although many have run faster, few have worked harder or deserved it more.

One of the key elements of running is understanding that you can only really compete with yourself. No matter who you are, there will always be someone faster and someone slower. All world records eventually fall. And, if you see running as solely about getting from one place to another, you are missing the point entirely. Certainly, doing your best is what it is all about. But it is your best that counts, not whether your best happens to be faster or slower than the next guy.