Monday, April 30, 2007

Positive Splits at the Nevada City Spring Run 10K

With "V" Neelakantan at the awards ceremony

Last Saturday, we participated in the 21st annual Spring Run 5K and 10K in Nevada City. It was the second race of the Gold Country Grand Prix series. Sean and I had signed up to run the 10K, while Vicky, Rocky, and our kids' friend Hayes had preregistered to run the 5K race.

We picked up the race packets and I went for my usual one-mile warmup on Broad Street. It was a gorgeous morning. It was already warm, but not uncomfortable. Quite a change from two weeks ago. "V" Neelakantan was back and running the 10K. We missed him in the last race and at the Bidwell Classic half marathon in Chico. Since he finished in second place last year and pretty much in the top 5 of all of last year's races, he was going to be a tough competitor in this race. Greg Ngo, who took second in the Daffodil Run 10K two weeks ago, was running the 10K as well, while some other runners that ran the Daffodil Run 5K were now trying their luck in the 10K.
The 5K run, 5K walk, and 10K run all started at 8:30, with the ringing of the church bells. The start was down a steep hill, followed by more downhill running (a total of 1821 ft elevation gain and loss on the 10K course). Since it was out and back on both distances, you knew you would have to pay for the blistering speed later.

After a quick sprint to avoid some cars in the narrow street that we were racing down, I settled into a comfortable pace. After about a mile (5:54, due to the downhill) the 5K and 10K went their own different ways and I found myself in second position, trailing Troy Vahidi, with V right behind me. V passed me and I decided to stay right behind him after we exchanged a few words. He really pushed the pace and the two of us passed Troy around the two-mile mark. The course was still going downhill, but we were now running on a quiet gravel road with rolling hills.
V pulled away and was running about forty yards ahead of me when we approached the turnaround/aid station. V stopped a few seconds for a cup of water at the aid station, which allowed me to catch up. I decided not to drink anything and was now running just a few steps behind V again towards the other runners that were heading to the turnaround point. Troy Vahidi and Greg Ngo looked pretty close. The race had really just started, since it was pretty much all uphill to the end.

At mile 4, V slowed down just a little bit and I found myself in the lead (though a little earlier than I had hoped for, but you can't always plan these things out). I looked at my Garmin Forerunner 205 and the pace was definitely slowing down. However, with the hills, it was really hard to tell what the target pace should be, so I decided to just run and not look at the watch anymore.
Between mile five and five and a half I started passing some of the walkers and some of the 5K runners that were cooling down. One of them told me that he could not see anyone behind me, which saved me some looking over my shoulder. With a half mile left, I decided to push it in order not to let my small lead slip away. Soon after that I arrived at the base of the steep street that we had bombed down earlier. I looked over my shoulder one more time and ran up the hill as fast as I could. Rocky and Hayes were cheering at the top of the street and Rocky ran next to me for the last 50 yards.
I came in first place overall in an unofficial 42:26 (there was a small computer glitch at the finish line, so the official results are still to be posted) The (positive) splits were 5:54, 6:33, 6:23, 6:46, 6:49, and 7:16. Considering the layout of the course, negative splits were not an option.
V finished shortly after, followed by Greg Ngo and Troy Vahidi. My son Sean ran a great 10K as well (time still to be posted), coming in first in his age group and finishing with a strong sprint up the hill. We both received ten Grand Prix points for an age group win, which means I am now tied with Larry Defeyter, who won the 5K.

A well-deserved drink at the finish

Rocky and Hayes did not make it into the very tough top three this time, but ran great races anyway. We stayed for the awards ceremony, hosted by race director Pearce Boyer and then had a nice coffee at the Wisdom Cafe across the street.

Larry Defeyter won the 5K overall.

You can check out the Garmin details of the race at

Next up, the Salmon Run 10K trail race in two weeks.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Wind and Rain at the First Annual Sunsweet Tehama Wildflowers 50K

Last Saturday I joined 21 50K runners and 30 50K relay runners in Red Bluff, CA to run the inaugural Sunsweet Tehama Wildflowers 50K/50K Relay trail run. This race was the second race in the the 2007 Fuel Belt Series. I had recently picked up 61 (out of 62) points in the first race of that series, the Pony Express 100K, with a second place finish six minutes behind Scott Dunlap.
I did not get a lot of sleep the night before the race, because we had my wife's birthday party on Friday night and I had to get up at 3:30 a.m. to get to the race. I could have left later, but wanted to allow plenty of time in case something went wrong along the way, since I had never been to Red Bluff before. When the alarm rang, I jumped out of bed, mostly out of fear that I would fall asleep and wake up just a few minutes before the race was about to start without any hope of making it there in time. This has never actually happened to me, but I am always afraid it will.
I went through my usual prerace morning routine of eating toast with honey and jam, drinking coffee, and preparing my feet for the race. I use Bag Balm, Bodyglide and, most importantly, a new pair of Balega socks. These South African socks are really amazing. They are the equivalent of high-thread count sheets for your feet. I have never had a single blister with these socks and this time, with a good chance of rain and four creek crossings, I was going to put them to the test.

I arrived at the start early and met Jeremy Reynolds, who had won the 50 Mile race at the Pony Express. He had arrived the night before and slept in the back of his truck. I picked up my race packet, which included a bib with my lucky number 7, and was told that a bus was going to take us to the start about two miles away. Since it was freezing cold, I was happy to find out that the race packet's goodie bag doubled as a drop bag that could be used to return our warmup clothes to the finish line.

Beverly Anderson-Abbs handing out race packets at race headquarters at the Bend Boat Launch parking lot

I talked to Jeremy for a bit. He rides and trains endurance horses. He and his wife have actually won the Tevis Cup (run on the Western States 100-mile course) as well as the Hagen cup, which is given to the horse who looks best the day after completing the 100 mile race. Now there's a novel idea! Some race directors could add that to a 100 mile running race and they could use a 5K race or a lap on the track to determine the winner :)

Jeremy Reynolds at the finish

It is actually surprising how much endurance racing has in common for horses and humans. It is ultimately all a matter of fueling, pacing, training, and strategy. There are differences in sweat rate, electrolyte replenishment needs, forced rest stops (In the horse races, the race clock is actually stopped for all horses for a few hours), and so on, but in a foot race you are also managing an animal (your own body) throughout a race.

A small bus transported all the 50K runners to the start around 7:30, and the race directors Alan and Beverly Anderson-Abbs, who also happen to be two great ultra runners, gave us the final instructions: wet feet were unavoidable due to four creek crossings, the front runner would most likely have to open a series of gates, and watch out for lots of rocks and technical terrain.

My aims for this race were simple:

  1. Try to maintain a pace similar to the pace I ran in February's Jedidiah Smith 50K, despite the tougher terrain (4:16:50-8:16/mile pace), despite the tougher terrain.
  2. Try out a new, consistent fueling strategy by taking half a Hammer gel package every 30 minutes with water from my 20 oz hand bottle, as well as one electrolyte tablet every hour.

I did not bring an iPod, digital camera, or any other electronic devices, due to the possibility of rain and, more importantly, the need to stay alert for course markings on this new course.

Since it was freezing cold, we could not wait to get started and the 8 a.m. start was fast and furious. Jeremy took the lead right away. The course was full of lava rock and I was really glad I had picked my Nike Air Zoom Vomero shoes for the race, because without proper cushioning, I would have really trashed my legs.

After about two miles, a group of five, including Jeremy, Raymond Sanchez, a relay runner, a runner from Reno, and myself, built up a good lead. Jeremy was leading and we had to look carefully for flagging. Most turns were marked very well, but in a few cases the wind must have blown the pink and yellow tape away. We would have taken a wrong turn and ended up at Mount Shasta if it wasn't for Jeremy's eagle eye, spotting some pink ribbons a few hundred yards downhill from us.

The quiet and concentrated lead pack was followed by two runners, including Todd Larson, who was running his first 50K. In fact, he skipped the marathon and went straight from the half marathon to 50K (welcome to ultrarunning, Todd).

We blew right past the first aid station and continued running approximately 7:30 miles to the next aid station. I had my own gel and water, so did not need to stop yet. Possibly worried about losing ground, none of the other runners stopped either and we continued the fast pace.

The course ran parallel to the Sacramento river. Mostly gentle rolling hills on single track volcanic rock trails as well as some old wagon trails. There were many small ups and downs and a lot of the race was run on some fairly flat meadows. It was very windy on the flats, so it was good to run as part of a pack. Jeremy suddenly pulled over to use the restroom and shortly after that, we lost the guy from Reno, so our lead group shrunk to three, including the relay runner.

The first creek crossing was not bad. Jumping over some strategically placed rocks, I was able to stay dry and this made me think I might be able to stay dry altogether. As we were running down the most technical descent of the course, towards the next creek crossing, I noticed a barbed wire cowboy-style gate up ahead. Raymond Sanchez, who was running a few feet in front of me was so focused on his footing that he would have plowed right into the gate if I had not yelled out to him. I quickly opened the gate and found ourselves at creek crossing number two, where my dream of keeping dry feet instantly vanished. Alan Abbs was right; there was no way to stay dry. The creek crossing was a long marshy wet mess. We splashed in and ran across as fast as we could.

After having opened the almost fatal barbed wire gate, I was now in the lead and thus in charge of opening the rest of the gates (four or five more). Fortunately we did not have to close them behind us. Raymond and I cruised to the relay hand off point aid station, which would be passed twice, because it also marked the start of an extra two-mile loop. I left my water bottle at the aid station for the two-mile loop and when I came back it was topped off. At one point, Raymond almost took a bad fall, but fortunately he managed to catch himself with his head only inches away from a few dangerous rocks. Quite a few other runners tripped and fell on the many loose rocks as well.

The relay runner that had been part of the pack of five passed us just before the halfway point and his teammate charged up the hill ahead of us. Soon after that, another fresh relay runner passed us. Todd Larson caught up to us and Raymond broke away, soon followed by Todd, leaving me in third place, without any other runners in sight.

I focused on my fueling and getting from aid station to aid station, but my pace was slowing down a bit. I was still putting in 8:30/8:40 miles, but the rocky terrain was tough. It also started to rain lightly. Occasionally, a confused wildflower raised its head into the wind-swept meadows, but overall we were not treated to the spectacular views that this area is famous for. Even if we had though, we would not have been able to enjoy it while running, because the rocky terrain demanded complete head-down concentration. I might come back here for a nice (untimed) family hike some time, because I have heard a lot about the beautiful wildflowers.

Miles 18 through 24 were pretty tough, but I kept running, except for the steep technical ascent after the large creek crossing. I did not see anyone in front of me or behind me and a few times I thought I had lost the trail, only to spot a familiar yellow ribbon in the distance. The aid stations were about three miles apart and the people were great. The volunteers filled water bottles faster than you could say "Sunsweet Tehama Wildflowers 50K."

As it started raining heavier, I actually started feeling better. You can blame that on being Dutch, I guess. My oldest son Sean also loves to run in the rain and actually tries to get his feet wet in as many puddles as possible. This would have been a perfect day for him!

I got to the last aid station with five miles to go. I filled up my water bottle for the last time and charged off hoping I could still catch Todd or Raymond, or both. I was now running on a fairly flat gravel road, that lead to a large meadow. By now I was soaking wet from the pouring rain, yet thoroughly enjoying it. As I ran into the meadow, I saw Todd up ahead. I was closing in on him rapidly, running sub 8 miles again and after a few minutes I passed him. I picked up the pace a bit and blew by the last aid station with two miles to go.

The final two miles of the race were on the road back to the boat launch parking lot where we had parked in the morning. I ran a 7:30 mile followed by a sub 7 mile, looking over my shoulder a few times just in case. I felt great and arrived at the finish at 4:08:30, about 7 and a half minutes behind Raymond, who finished in a well-deserved first place (4:00:50).

It turned out that Raymond was fairly new to running, having switched from boxing only last year and now running a few marathons a month. He fell twice on the course and only narrowly escaped the barbed wire gate, so maybe boxing was safer after all :)

Raymond Sanchez -- in the black trunks, undefeated champion of the wildflower

Todd Larson came in third place (4:13:45), and Jeremy came in about 11 minutes behind me in 4:19. He had to leave right away to get to a wedding, so he decided to take a quick swim in the Sacramento river.

Jeremy's cool down

On my way home, I stopped by Luigi's Pizza and Pasta restaurant in Red Bluff for lunch. I met Nevada City's Frank Plucker there, who finished 10th in the 50K. Frank and I had both run the Daffodil Run 10K last week, so it was fun to see him here. Hopefully I'll see him and his family at the Nevada City Spring Run 10K on Saturday.

Finally, I stopped at Peet's coffee in Chico. My Lake Tahoe Ultra sweater caught the eye of the Peytons from Incline Village. We talked for a little bit. They were in town for the Chico Wildflower Century (100 mile bike ride) that was going to be held on Sunday. Michael, an avid road biker, had actually paced the Tahoe marathon front runners on his bike two years ago. I told them about my Tahoe triple adventure last year and found out that Les Wright, the Lake Tahoe Marathon race director, used to be Michael's PE teacher. It's a small world.
As for the Balega sock stress test, they held up great. No blisters. Next up, the Nevada City Spring Run 10K on Saturday.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Speed Work at the Penn Valley Daffodil Run 10K

On Sunday, I joined about 400 people in Penn Valley for the 7th annual Daffodil Run 5K Run/10K run/5K Walk. This event was the first race in the 2007 Gold Country Grand Prix put on by the Sierra Trailblazers running club. Last year, I participated in all the races of this Grand Prix series with my two sons, Sean and Rocky, and my dad. We all had a blast. My dad and Rocky placed first place in their age division and Sean came in second. I placed fourth in the 30-39 age group.
Due to a hectic work schedule last year, I had to spend most of the early GP races getting back into running shape. For example, I finished last year's Daffodil run in 55:17, which was nothing to write home about (so I didn't). This year, I had been training and running races all winter and going into this race I had my eye on a top three spot in the 10K based on a recent 42:30 10K training run in similar terrain and looking at last year's top times (a 40:30 first place).
I have yet to break 40 minutes in a 10K, but it was unlikely to happen on this course. Although it is probably the flattest course of the Gold Country Grand Prix series, it does have one major hill in it around mile two as well as a few other small rolling hills.

The day before the race it was raining like crazy and some of my ultrarunning friends ran the American River 50 in the pouring rain. The weather changed overnight and by the time the race started at 8:45 it was sunny and windy. I warmed up by running about one mile and stripped down to my racing gear just before the start. There were many familiar faces in the crowd.

Joan Bumpus, the race director (previously a serious ultrarunner), sounded the siren and we were off. Some young runners started out like it was a 100 yard dash, which is always fun to see. I tried to immediately find a 6:40 pace to avoid going out too fast. I was pretty sure I was in the lead of the 10K, but since both the 5K and 10K started at the same time I would not be able to tell until after the 5K turnaround at approximately 1.5 miles.
With the turnaround in sight, the first two 5K runners were already on their way back. Chris Bodelato, last year's Grand Prix winner from Reno, NV, was leading followed by the fast Nevada City runner, Larry Defeyeter, who won my age group in the GP last year. Both of them were running around 5:40/mile.
At the 5K turning point, three runners caught up to me and a runner in the black T-shirt (Doug Reed, I believe) took the lead. I alternated fourth, third, and second place with the other two for the next 3 miles, drafting a bit here and there to avoid the strong headwind on the way back from the 10K turnaround point. On the way back from the 10K turnaround point, I met Sid Heaton, who was going way faster than his predicted pace as well as my oldest son Sean who was still going strong (a fellow runner told him that he should join the track team).
I slowly moved back up and moved into second place on the downhill after mile 4. I was followed very closely by another runner from the original group of 4. We started passing the 5K walkers. The last mile of the course was run on a bike path on which we had to dodge a lot of 5K walkers. I passed my wife on the bike path and soon after that, I passed the front runner, still followed by the man behind me. It was a fight for first and second place now. I prepared myself for the uphill finish and tried speeding up a few times on the bike path, but was unable to drop my opponent who was literally just a few feet behind me and seemed to be glued onto me.
It is funny how you go through a lot of the same mental issues that you go through in a long race and it is easy to get sucked into negative imagination. To avoid that I tried to visualize positive images and drew strength from knowing that some of my friends, like the unstoppable Chihping Fu, had just completed a 50 mile race in the pouring rain in a PR of 8:31. Here I was almost finished in 40 minutes. I could not let it slip away now!
It was a real fight to the finish until the last turn from the bike path into the park with about a tenth of a mile to go. At that point I really put the hammer down, giving it my all to hold on to the first place. I looked over my shoulder to make sure I was not going to be passed and fortunately my finishing kick was good enough to hang on for the overall 10K win.
Overall it proved to be a good strategy, not going out to hard and running the following (negative) splits: 6:28, 7:00, 6:39, 6:46, 6:25, 6:11. I guess all the long runs are paying off :)
In the meantime, Rocky had run a 29:00 5K and my sons' friend Hayes, who came along for his first 5K came in around 27 minutes. We all waited for Sean to finish his 10K. He ran non-stop and finished strong. He came in first in his age group in another PR of 1:05, picking up 10 Grand Prix points!
Next up, the Tehama Wildflowers 50K in Red Bluff on Saturday!
Rocky, Sean, and Hayes -- Enough energy left to go skateboarding after the awards ceremony!

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Coconut Water, Nature's Gatorade

This stuff is really good! After reading Scott Dunlap's post about coconut water, I decided to give it a try. Actually, just prior to reading that, my brother recommended it to me as well. He mixes cocoa beans and other vegan goodies to it to make delicious shakes. It is refreshing and works really well as a recovery drink after training runs.

I am buying it by the case now at my local health food store:

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Switched to Blogger

After talking to Scott Dunlap at the Pony Express 100K and taking a look at some of the features that Blogger offers, I decided to move my blog . Looking forward to keeping you up-to-date!
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