Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Memorial Day Hike on the TRT and PCT

We spent the long Memorial Day weekend at Lake Tahoe. For once, there was no Gold Country Grand Prix 10K run to race, so I just ran some training sessions and on Sunday, we went for a great hike on the Tahoe Rim Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail at Echo Lake.
We packed some delicious sandwiches for lunch from Tahoe House, our favorite bakery, filled up the Camelbak, and then headed south to the Echo Lake Chalet, which is located about 7 miles south of South Lake Tahoe on Highway 50 and marks the TRT/PCT trailhead .

The Echo Lake Chalet

One fun thing about this hike is that there is a ferry boat service ($10.00 pp one-way/Visa and Mastercard accepted) that takes you across lower and upper Echo Lake to the PCT trailhead, which otherwise would be a 2.9-mile hike. Note that the last ferry back to the chalet leaves promptly at 5:00 p.m.

From the boatramp and trailhead at Upper Echo Lake we hiked on the PCT through the desolation wilderness towards Lake Aloha (Still snowed under, based on some other hikers' reports). The views were fantastic and the weather was great.

View of Lower and Upper Echo Lake from the PCT

On the way back, Vicky and kids took the boat and I tried to race them (running the 2.9 miles back to the chalet). The boat was just a little bit faster and they arrived a few minutes before me and they were already buying some icecream when I got there.

Fun on the trail

Next up, the Run for the Community 5K/10K on Saturday.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Getting Fit with Fido at the Animal Save Run 10K

With Larry Defeyter (1st overall 10K)

This year's Animal Save Run 5K/10K in Nevada City marked the fourth race of the Gold Country Grand Prix series (not including the kids' run). The race is held on the same exact course as the Spring Run, which we had raced three weeks ago (in 42:27). A lot of runners showed up and many of them brought their dogs. The unique thing about this race is that dogs get their own race numbers and win prizes just like the runners do. Attendance at the races has been at record levels this year and this race seemed like no exception. Everybody was in good spirits and the weather was beautiful.

The Grand Prix series is based on a points system. The person that places first in his or her age group gets 10 points, second gets 7, third 5, fourth 3, and everybody else gets 1 point. I was going into this race with a perfect age group score (30 points in 3 races), but that was about to change.

Nevada's City's Larry Defeyter, who had won first place in the 30-39 age group on "the other side," in the Daffodil run and Spring run 5K races decided to switch over to the 10K this time. He had not run the Salmon Run last week, so I figured he would be hard to beat, but I was going to give it my best shot. I guess I could have switched to the 5K to try to keep up the perfect age group score, but I decided a while back that I would stick to the longest possible distance that any GP event has to offer, since these races are ultimately speedwork for the longer races coming up. There is one half marathon race in the series on June 23rd, so that will be exciting!

The Animal Save course is out and back with about 1800 feet elevation change. The first half is mostly down, Miles 4-5.5 are pretty much uphill, and the finish is on a brutal 20% grade for about 0.1 mile.

The start was once again fast and furious. We sped down the hill and then settled into a steady pace. After a little bit, Larry passed me and I followed him closely for about a mile and a half. After that, he slowly pulled away, but I decided not to push too hard to keep up with him, since we had a long uphill coming up on the way back. It was also a lot hotter than it was three weeks ago, in part due to the 9 a.m start (half an hour later than the Spring Run).

We reached the turnaround point and I quickly swallowed a half Hammer gel packet and I downed two small cups of water. Last time, I did not "hammer" or drink anything at the aid station, but this time drinking was a must, because I was already feeling dehydrated. I thought that the Hammer gel would also give me a boost at the right time and I was right; I shaved about 20 seconds of my previous time, due to a stronger finish.

It was fun to see all the dogs on the course. My kids' friend Hayes had also switched to the 10K after successfully completing last week's Salmon Run and I met him and Sean on the way back. Both of them were looking good.

By mile 4, Larry was out of sight, and I just kept running a steady pace up the hills, while still hammering the downhills. I met last week's winner, Chris Badolato, who had just won the 5K and he told me I was running strong and had about a half mile to go. I kicked it up a notch in the hope that I might get another glimpse of Larry, but I did not see him. At the last turn, I quickly looked over my shoulder, but there was nobody sneaking up on me either, so I just dashed up the hill and finished second overall in 42:08, less than two minutes behind Larry (I'll need to check the official results to verify this). V Neelakantan came in third, followed by Dean Garcia and Troy Vahidi, who came in strong, sprinting like it was a hundred-meter dash (and remember this is an almost vertical finish).

Hayes finished strong in about 1:03, good for first in the 13-15 age group and Sean sprinted to the finish about five minutes later, good for first in his 12 and under age group. He is now at the top of his age group in the GP standings with 37 points just like me. Rocky came in fourth (pending official results) in his age group over in the 5K run.
Sean on the final ascent
We drank some water and headed over to the awards ceremony across the street, which started with a variety of dog awards, which were quite funny. Not just the fastest dog, but also the smallest, cutest, and biggest dogs were given medals. The latter actually belonged to our kids' dentist and Sierra Trailblazer Terry Horlick.
Terry Horlick's dog (right) wins the big dog award
A very proud dog!
After the dogs had received all their awards, it was time for the human hardware. It was a good thing that Sean and Hayes came in first, because, in the age groups, only the first place finishers received awards. Normally the top three finishers receive a medal or a ribbon.
Second place overall
We had bought three raffle tickets and stayed to see if we had won any prizes. Last year, Sean won a $25 gift certificate. I guess this is his lucky race, because at he won again. This time he won a big Starbucks gift box that contained two beautiful cups, a pound of coffee and a coffee scoop. When asked if he was into coffee, he replied "I am now!"
Altogether, we had a great day. The friendly atmosphere that you find at these running races is unlike any other sports event, and keeps us coming back for more.
Sean wins the Starbucks gift pack -- let's not forget who bought you that raffle ticket, son!

Animal Save Run 10K 1-mile Splits:
5:31, 6:32, 6:31, 6:59, 7:01, 7:42

GPS Details:
Next up, the Twin Cities Run for the Community 5K/10K (June 2nd).

Monday, May 7, 2007

Mother's Day at the Salmon Run 10K

Last Sunday, we joined about 125 other runners and walkers to run the Salmon Run 10K. This event was the third race (not including the kids run last week) in the 2007 Gold Country Grand Prix series, organized by the Sierra Trailblazers running club. It was not exactly the Mother's Day activity that my wife had in mind, but we promised to make it up to her after the event :).

Of all the Gold Country Grand Prix races, this is by far the toughest one. For starters, it is actually 11K (6.75 miles). Right from the start, you head down steeply, descending a thousand feet over about two miles.

Over the first two miles, the Salmon Run drops down about a thousand foot into the Yuba River canyon

Once you get to the bottom, you cross a small bridge, which marks the start of the infamous "Salmon Ladder," which makes even the fastest runners slow down to a crawl, similar to the salmon swimming upstream. After that, there is a pretty flat two-mile section of flume trail, where the worst part is dodging oncoming foot traffic. You finish the run by climbing back out of the canyon on the gravel road that you came down on for about a mile and a half. All in all, not your average 10K.

The 10K happens to also be the only event here, so Grand Prix runners, in their relentless quest for more Grand Prix points, have no choice but to run the whole thing. Last year, quite a few people got injured here, mostly on the descent. The gravel road has lots of loose rock on it, so it is easy to roll an ankle.

Last year, I had one of my proudest moments as a father right on this course. My sons both wanted to run the event, because it was part of the GP series and we had no idea about the course. They had been running the 5Ks in the series and that was already quite something for them. As the race director described the course (longer and much tougher than expected), my heart sank. I was not sure if the boys would be able to run this.

I told them to take it easy and to walk lot if needed and then we all took off. After I finished, I was pretty much convinced that they would be sitting on the side of the road somewhere. I had a quick drink and ran back down as soon as I could. The one problem was that cars could not access the trail, so there was no way to simply drive up to them in case of a DNF.

After running down for a while, I met my dad and started explaining to him what to do when he reached the finish since I was going to be a while, getting the boys. As we were talking and wondering how long it would take them, guess who comes around the corner? Sean and Rocky, smiling and running. When Rocky got closer, I noticed he was full of blood. He had taken a nasty fall at mile 2 and had a cut on his knee as well as his hands. Sean had picked him up and slowed down to run all the way to the finish with him. I was amazed!

This year, I heard that some improvements had been made to the course, so I decided to run the course the weekend before, while some of my ultra friends were out running Miwok 100K. I used this training session also to experiment with fueling strategies for the upcoming TRT100 (now just about two months away), using two water bottles, a small Camelbak, Hammer Heed, Succeed caps, and a few different gels.

I decided to run three loops on the course in a relaxed pace. By the third loop, I was intimately familiar with the course. The main improvement was a brand-new bridge that replaced the creek crossing. Other than that, the course had not improved much.

The new bridge

On Sunday, the boys and I got up early to prepare breakfast for mom, after which we left to head to race HQ at the Sierra Friends Center in Nevada City. This was going to be an exciting race with all of the contenders in one group (most other GP races have a 5K as well as a 10K track).

A minivan transported us to the start a few miles down the road. My race plan was simple: Build up a lead by flying down the hill, power walk the fish ladder, catch my breath and run the flat part evenly and then maintain a steady pace on the final grueling uphill.

Chris Badolato, last year's overall winner of the GP series who had also won every race he entered last year, was in the lineup, as well as most of the other 30-39 AG competitors. Right after the start Chris took the lead and I decided to stay with him from the start. We bombed down the hill and the first miles literally flew by (mile 1: 5:15, mile 2 5:30).

I grabbed a quick cup of water at the aid station before the bridge and swallowed a half package of Hammer gel as well. At first Chris and I ran a little bit of the salmon ladder, but then we both started power walking. Mile 3 passed in 10:02 and I passed my wife, Vicky, and her friend here (they had started the 10K walk 30 minutes earlier).

The start of the "Salmon Ladder"

Knowing the course and breaking it down mentally definitely gave an edge. on the flat flume trail, Chris made a slight wrong turn and ended up in front of an old outhouse and he had to jump back down onto the trail. This suddenly put me in the lead, at least for the remainder of the flume trail, until mile 5.
The old outhouse

We ran the flat part in a very even 7:05 and 7:05, still recovering from the monstrous salmon ladder, and then we started heading back up the hill to the finish. Since it was actually 11K, there was a good one and a half mile of steep gravel road left. I looked back a few times at some of the switchbacks, but there was nobody in sight behind us.

The first and last miles of the race run on this steep gravel road
Chris pulled away from me and it was incredibly hard to speed up on the uphill (hence my strategy to go out so aggressively). I kept him in sight until the finish and finally arrived second overall in 50:42. Kevin Baker arrived about a minute later, in third place. My friend Sid Heaton ran a very strong 55:00, about 7 minutes faster than last year (good for 11th place).
With Sid Heaton
Our friend Marie and our kids' friend Hayes both finished strong and we drank water and waited at the finish line for the rest to come in. Fortunately, Rocky did not fall this time, but he still ran all the way with Sean, who had an an upset stomach and was not feeling 100%. They finished the race about 12 minutes faster than last year.
Rocky and Sean finish 12 minutes faster than last year
when I saw them arriving in the distance, it reminded me of the Beardsley/Salazar finish described in the book, Duel in the Sun. I had read that book, about the dramatic events in the lives of the two marathon legends, earlier in the week and found it quite fascinating.

Rocky's finish kick, 1:33:37 good for first place in the 1-12 age division

Sean, just eight seconds behind, takes second place in the 1-12 age group.
Vicky arrived a bit later and we headed to the awards ceremony. After that, we made good on our promise to make this a great mother's Day by taking mom to Tofanelli's restaurant for a nice lunch.
Complete race results can be found on the Sierra Trailblazers web site:

Next up, the Animal Save Run 10K on Saturday!

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