Sunday, October 21, 2007

Running Through the Colors

At the Start with Sean and Rocky
Today, I joined what seemed like a record crowd (200+) for one of the biggest local races, the annual Run through the Colors 5 and 10K in Nevada City. The race lived up to its name in a big way; the trees seemed to be having their own competition for most beautiful fall colors.
For different reasons, Team Lubbers decided to switch gears by running the 5K distance instead of the usual "longest available race on the menu." Last year, I had picked the 10K option at Run through the Colors race and lost what could have been a nice 3rd place age group finish in the 2006 Gold Country Grand Prix series. So, still recovering from the recent ultras, and trying not to have history repeat itself, I entered the 5K myself. Rocky had just recovered from a flu and Sean had just undergone a major dental surgery on Friday, so the boys entered the 5K as well, with Rocky running and Sean walking. It was actually amazing that Sean could walk at all, since he had not eaten since Thursday night and was still in a lot of pain. And since all of us were running the 5K, Sean and Rocky's friend Hayes decided to switch to the 5K as well. Vicky and Hayes's mom were on hand to cheer for all of us.
In order to win this year's 30-39 age group, I needed at least two second place finishes (good for 7 points each) in the final two races of the season to keep Larry Defeyter, the hard-charging local champ (See Steve Bond's Union Newspaper article), from overtaking me. As it turned out, Larry was running the 10K today, so I had a good chance, although it was hard to tell at the starting line which race the other 30 to 39-year old grand prix runners were running. Hmm, all these calculations and strategies, this sounds suspiciously like that other grand prix series that I am running in. One thing is for sure, participating in two grand prix series will make you a better mathematician!
Sean was pretty much guaranteed a second place in the grand prix series for his 12-and-under age group, but Rocky was going to have to run hard for the remaining two races to make it into the top three of the age group and with local national class 12-year old Zach Stoll present, it was going to be even harder.
The Top of Nevada City's Broad Street in Fall Colors
It was very cold at the start, so we could not wait to get started. At exactly 8:30, all the 5 and 10K runners took off in a mad dash to make it to the narrow turn onto the main road without getting trampled. Everyone was running very fast, but that abruptly changed when we made our first right turn, which marked the start of a brutal uphill (Nevada Street) that slowed everyone, except perhaps eventual 10K winner Chris Bodelato (in an amazing 35 minutes and change), down to a crawl.
After about a mile, the 5K and 10K courses split and I found myself in fourth place overall of the 5K, right behind Zach Stoll and with the ever-dangerous Greg Ngo not far behind me. The course wound itself up and down the streets of Nevada City; I don't think there was a single flat section! On the uphills, the featherlight Zach would pull ahead of me, and on the downhills, I would pull even with him again.

The Long Downhill on Broad Street

The last part of the course is my favorite: a huge downhill on Broad Street (the main street in Nevada City's downtown area), followed by a slight uphill before the final straightaway to the finish. Greg was still pretty close, so this was my chance to increase the gap. I started hammering down the hill and passed Zach just before the final climb. Realizing I now had a chance to put some extra points in the grand prix bank, I sprinted to the finish and arrived in third place overall (1st in the 30-39 AG) in about 20:45.

Hayes finished the race in 28 minutes and change and Rocky came in around 32 minutes. Larry Defeyeter won the age group in the 10K (41 + change) and Frank Plucker and Sid Heaton ran some excellent 10K races as well. I met many fellow Sierra Trailblazers, including Catherine, the Sierra Trail Runner (who ran a great race herself -- check out the great pictures on her blog) and it was fun catching up with all of them. We had a fun time watching the other racers finish. The most dramatic finish of the day was Troy Vahidi's. His super-charged finish sprint reminded me of the recent women's finish at the Chicago marathon, as he blasted by an unsuspecting race finisher in the final 50 yards.

And, hey, I was not the only ultrarunner participating in the short distance today! Gordy Ansleigh, the man who basically invented ultrarunning, ran the 10K and won the 60-69 age group.

With Gordy at the Awards Ceremony

After most of the 10K runners had finished, race director Richard Thomas handed out the great awards that this race is known for: the Sierra Club Calendars for the top 2 in each age group. Last year my dad, who came in second in the 70-79 age group, had won one and and fortunately I was able to pick up another one of these great calendars this year. The amazing Boutte family from Nevada City had a great day with four age group wins and (I think) two overall wins as well, so look for them selling calendars in the mall :)

Richard Thomas Hands out the Famous Calendars

V. Neelankantan Picking up His Annual Calendar -- Photo by Rocky Lubbers

After the race we went for our traditional coffee at the Wisdom Cafe on Broad Street. We had actually passed the cafe during the race. I ordered a large latte and was not disappointed!
The Wisdom Cafe on the Race Course

Redefining "Large Coffee"


Many thanks to Richard Thomas and his wife for organizing this great race, and to the small army of volunteers who monitored every intersection of the course and made sure this race went so smoothly.

Next up, The Helen Klein 50 on November 3rd!

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Running LOTS and lots

The TRT on a Beautiful Fall Day

On Saturday I joined about fifty other runners to run LOTS (Lake of the Sky) 5oK trail run. I had, however, already been running lowercase LOTS in the last month (180 race miles since Sep 22), and if it was not for the lure of double grand prix points for the ultrarunner.net series in which I am going head to head with Scott Dunlap, I don't think I would have shown up for this race so soon after all those other races.

The combination of icy roads and running continuously on the camber of the left side of the road during the last 72-miles of the Super Triple had done a number on my left ankle. After the race it was swollen and I did not have the full range of motion. It did not look like anything serious, but I did not run at all in the two week period between the triple and LOTS. It had gotten a lot better, but I was not fully recovered yet. Add to that a crazy week at work where I had been working until very late and getting only an average of about four hours of sleep per night and my "taper" was complete. Well, enough with the excuses; I'll stop whining now, but you can probably see where this is going.

Despite my sleep-deprived week, I actually felt energetic and jumped out of bed when the alarm clock went off. At least I had not overslept; that was half the battle! I had a quiet drive to Tahoe City and arrived at Starbucks at 6:00, where I met fellow runner Jason Horne from England. He needed directions to the start, so when we were properly caffeinated, I led the way to Fairway Drive where the race started.
I picked up my race bib and received an enormous, "good-thing-I-brought-the-truck" goodie bag from the race directors, Robert and Linda Mathis. I met lots of familiar grand prix runners, like Scott Dunlap, Nancy Warren, and Claire Gilles.

It was still cold outside, but the forecast promised a picture-perfect day around Tahoe, with perfect running temperatures. We stayed inside as long as possible, but then at about 6:50, Robert and Linda took all of us outside, briefly explained the course, and sent us on our way.

Not having run for two weeks, I felt excited to be running again, but similar to how one's eyes can be bigger than one's stomach, my imaginary picture of how I was going to charge this first 2.5 mile uphill section was much bigger than my legs and lungs. Within about a mile of running, all the excitement was replaced with nothing but negative thoughts about the outcome of the race and the reason for running it at all. I was breathing heavily, trying to pay off my oxygen debt, and my legs felt heavy. On top of that, the section was quite technical and I could immediately feel that my left ankle still did not have the full range of motion that this trail required.

I ran on like this for a little bit longer, trying to calm down the negative thoughts and then I started throwing in some walking breaks, which I had not really planned on. Clearly I had come too far to just quit now at mile one, so I eradicated that idea and told that nagging thought not to even bother coming back again; I was going to finish this run, no matter what. It was time to, as they say in the army, "embrace the suck."

Things did get a little better with the arrival of the first downhills after the 2.5 mile aid station. I was surprised that I could still move pretty well on the downhills, but had to just make sure I landed straight on my feet. Any sideways movement would send a painful jolt through my legs that would make me walk for a few minutes. Thank goodness for aspirin! I normally don't ever take any pain medication, but desperate times call for a little vitamin I.

Despite the fantastic course marking, excellent volunteers (Norm Klein, Dave Cotter and Kevin from the TRT race, and many others), and wonderful aid station food, the whole run felt more like a job than a nice day out on the trail for me. I just kept pushing forward, running most of the downhills and power walking the flats and uphills. Sometimes, I would force myself to just run for 30 or 60 seconds, knowing that every second counted.

Since the course was out and back, I met Scott on the trail and to my surprise I was only about 30 minutes behind him. Asked how I was doing, I said something like "good," which was not a complete lie, because I had actually lost less time than I thought. However, there was still a long way to go and I figured I would lose at least another 30 minutes on the way back. I quickly grabbed a gel at the aid station and turned around. The following miles seemed endless and it was hard to even run some of the downhills.
I made it to the party station at Watson Lake, hosted by the TRT100 crew (Dave Cotter and co.), where they actually served grilled cheese sandwiches and pumpkin pie! I knew I now had 5 miles to go until I would get to Norm's aid station, where I was going to get some soup, so I took off quickly and swallowed another gel to try to keep my energy levels up.
This was another endless section and I was surprised at how my mind was just going around in the same infinite loop: grand prix point calculations, cups of soup, ankle pain, repeat. In order to break out of the loop, I tried to take in the nice impressions around me and I promptly landed on the lavarock. A fountain of water squirted out of my water bottle as it broke my fall, which actually saved me from getting hurt.
When I finally got to Norm's aid station, I got the hot soup I had been craving. I asked Norm where Helen was and he told me a very nice story. 85 year-old Helen was out running the Dick Collins Firetrails 50 miler that day, in honor of Dick, who had been the Klein's life-long friend. Dick had actually run close to 1000 ultras before his first DNF. The most touching part of the story was that Dick died while watching a movie about Helen's ECO Challenge Race. I hope Helen had a good run. In fact, a lot of the ultraholics were out there running Firetrails with her. It sounds like a nice run.
I started feeling a bit better during the last 7.5 miles. I regained my full-strength power-walk on the flatter, rock-littered sections and was actually power-walking 12-minute miles, which was certainly faster than I could run, so I just did that until I reached the final aid station, which marked the sometimes almost vertical and very technical descent to the finish line. I had at one point hoped to break 7 hours, but that now seemed out of the question, because of the technical terrain.

Just before the end, Jennifer Hemmen came running back up the hill to an intersection, and we had to decide which fork in the road to pick. A course marker must have been displaced during the day. After looking at both trails for a bit we decided to take the left turn and after a few minutes we breathed a sigh of relief when we found another marker indicating we were on the right track. I followed Jennifer to the finish line and arrived in 7:13, good for 22th place overall -- mission accomplished.
I will say one thing about the TRT markers: without Robert and Linda's excellent flagging, it would have been hard to stay on the trail with just the white and blue TRT signs. There were many spots where it was very hard to see where the trail was and that's during the day. I can't really imagine trying to find the trail in some sections at night (mental note for TRT speed record attempt!).
The post-race dinner was a real feast, with all kinds of delicious food, including Linda's famous vegetarian chili, soup, salad, meat, and all kinds of desert items. Fellow blogger Gretchen arrived shortly after I finished and I finally got a chance to meet her in person. We talked for a while and then I drove to the Lake Forest boat ramp (just east of Tahoe City), which is my favorite place for post-race leg icing in the cold Tahoe water. You can simply walk down the concrete boat ramp until you are submerged up to your waist. Take it from me (and Sean Meissner who told me about this years ago), 20 minutes of this Tahoe-icing can make a big difference the next day!

The Lake Forest Boat Ramp

In the spirit of Blog Action Day (support it today!), I had decided before the race that I would pick up every single (small) piece of running-related litter that I would encounter on the trail. Fortunately, most of my fellow trail runners were good trail citizens, and I only had to pick up the following items:

  • 1 Cliff Shot gel package
  • 1 Gu gel package
  • 1 package of aspirins
  • 1 paper cup
  • my own Endurolite salt capsules that I spilled all over the trail, because I spaced out and forgot to close the Ziploc bag before raising my water bottle (with the same hand) to wash them down -- not just once, but twice!
In terms of caring for our environment, I think that it is important that we don't always wait for others to do things for us. It can be something as insignificant as picking up some litter, or volunteering to work on a trail, or actively supporting organizations like Keep Tahoe Blue or Tahoe Rim Trail, which allows us to even have a race like LOTS or TRT in the first place. One great thing about the LOTS race is that the proceeds of the race go to the Tahoe Rim Trail organization to help maintain the wonderful trail.
Note: just like its owner, my camera had not properly recovered before the race, which explains the lack of pictures on this post. However, it looked like Scott was making a documentary out there (while still placing an impressive 5th in 5:51!), so make sure you check out his blog for the visuals.

Next up, Run Through the Colors 10K in Nevada City on Sunday, the 21st.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

A Stack of Pancakes

The October issue of Ultrarunning magazine had a nice writeup by Nancy Warren (RD) about the 12 Hours at Cool event that I ran earlier this year (Page 57). the article wraps up with my finish-line breakfast request: "His only request when finished, was a stack of pancakes."

Yes, it's no secret that I love pancakes. When I was a kid, my dad and I would do an enormous amount of long-distance walking, mostly in Holland, Great Britain, and Germany. We would frequently cover 30 to 60 kilometers a day and at age 14 we covered more than 1000K in one one summer vacation.

While we were walking, we were always on the lookout for pancake restaurants. These are quite common in Holland and are called "pancake houses," or "pancake farms." We tried hundreds of these places and we graded each restaurant based on quality, ambiance, and so on. Our favorite (and in our expert opinion, Holland's finest) pancake restaurant is called Het Vergulden Hert (The Golden Deer). It is located in Elspeet, in the forests in the middle of Holland.
During the 12 Hours at Cool night run, the volunteers cooked up all kinds of delicious food. Every time I would pass the aid station, they would have bacon, breakfast burritos, and, of course, pancakes. I kept telling the volunteers I would be back at 7 a.m. to take them up on their offer and Nancy's husband made me a nice stack as soon as I finished.
Next up, Lake of the Sky 50K on the Tahoe Rim Trail on Saturday. The weather forecast looks good.

Monday, October 1, 2007

2007 Tahoe Super Triple Recap


At the finish with Lake Tahoe Marathon Organizer, Les Wright


Just some more pictures and notes to add to the previous triple posts from the day before, day 1, day 2, and day 3.


You would probably not believe it if you looked at the weather at the finish in the afternoon, but the third leg of the super triple (the 72-mile "midnight-express" ultra around Lake Tahoe) was run in some pretty bad weather conditions.


Around 30 runners started the 72-mile ultra run Friday at Midnight. On top of that, there were the Super Triple runners that had finished marathon #2 about 12 hours earlier. Immediately after that second marathon we had gone to lunch and straight to bed. At night, Vicky cooked a delicious, traditional pre-race spaghetti and buffalo meatball dinner in the hotel and we all set down for about an hour, discussing some final race strategy.


Last year, I had bonked pretty hard at the top of Spooner, 20 miles into the race and I was unable to take advantage of the long downhill to Incline Village. This year, we brought whipped potatoes and warm broth on top of the usual coffee, Hammer gel, and Gatorade, in the hope that the new fueling strategy would pave the way for a speedy downhill session.

The aim was to complete the first 46 miles in 8:30, so that I could run the final marathon with the regular marathon runners and perhaps even catch up with Sean and Rocky before the end. I think I might have made it this time, but mother nature had a different plan. I guess I'll try it once more next year :)


After dinner, we went back to bed and then we got up around 10:45, had coffee, loaded up the truck and we were off to the start. The start area was on the bike path that ran parallel with the highway, around Pope Beach. Sean Meissner was there, as well as Sam Thompson, and Akos Konya -- that was going to be an exciting race! It was already drizzling, but by the time the race started, it was actually snowing. Fortunately we had lots of spare clothes, shoes, and other gear in the truck.


Lucia Lake, the 72-mile organizer, did a great job of making sure the event started in time. She later drove around as the roving aid station, helping lots of runners and making sure everybody was safe.


The first part of the race runs right through South Lake Tahoe. Lots of cars honked and many (drunk) people cheered the runners on. However, as soon as we left the city, it became very quiet on the roads. I reached Cave Rock before 2:30 and power-walked most of the way up to Spooner Summit. My shoes had become soaked, so I quickly changed socks and shoes and then pressed on to Incline Village.

Another Super Triple runner, Jennifer Forman, caught up to me in this section. It had stopped snowing and it had become very cold. There was about an inch of snow on the road that had now turned into ice. Jennifer and I were slipping and sliding down the hill and at one point I slid from one side to the other side of the road. It was a good thing there were not many cars on the road!


My left eye was hurting from the snow and hail that I had been running in and I asked Rebecca for the sponge so I could wash it out a bit. We all broke out in laughter when Rebecca showed the sponge, which was essentially just a block of ice and frozen snow!

I made it to Incline Village and we were going to have a quick break at the end of Lakeview Blvd. The early morning sleep deprivation and the tough road conditions were catching up to me. At one point Chris handed me the chapstick and I applied it to my lips, only to find out later that I had forgotten to take the cap off! It was definitely time for coffee!

At the 33-mile mark, just before I had to head back onto the highway, I took a quick 10-minute break for coffee, some whipped potatoes, and just to warm up in general. A bewildered runner came by from the wrong direction and we pointed him back in the right direction. It was hard to get back out there, but once I was moving again for about 5 minutes, I felt better. The roads had not improved much though.

It was pretty clear that it was going to be hard to make it to the marathon start at this point, but we just kept moving forward. I finally reached Tahoe City (marathon start) around 9:10. There wasn't a marathoner in sight and Angel, the Tahoe Triple organizer, was already taking the mile markers down, so it looked like a ghost town. The one benefit of arriving late was that it was very easy for the crew to support me. Dave jr. called the crew and wished me luck in the final stretch (Thanks Dave!).

I made it to the 50-mile checkpoint in 11th place overall and first Super Triple runner. After getting this confirmed, I sent Chris and Rebecca back to scout out how the competition was doing. I had not seen the guy that was in second place (9 minutes behind me) at the start, but in the dark it was hard to tell. It turned out that the closest competitor, Keenan Follis, was about four miles behind me. It looked like Jennifer dropped out due to shin splints and there were a few more runners (but not the second place guy) about six miles back. I had a pretty good lead on the other runners already, so as long as I just kept moving, I would be fine. I power-walked the uphills and ran the downhills and caught up to the first back of the pack marathoners around mile 11.


Beautiful Emerald Bay

The last marathon is the most scenic section of the course and I tried to enjoy the great views. I passed the half marathon start and wondered how Sean and Rocky were doing. We called Vicky. She was at the finish line waiting for the boys and a little before 2 p.m. she called to say that they had finished their half marathon together in 2:55. What a great accomplishment, given the tough course! I am very proud of them.



Sean and Rocky crossing the half marathon finish line


Proud medal owners!
Soaking the legs...

Upon reaching Inspiration Point, I knew the last six miles were all down hill. Traffic had just started to move northbound, so an endless caravan of cars was driving towards me. Amazingly, this very arrow stretch of highway that snakes its way down the mountain, does not have a guard rail, so this kept me on my toes. The last miles of the course are always a bit tough, but I knew I was almost there. As I turned the final corner, I dropped my extra shirt and water bottle and sprinted to the finish line for my second Super Triple win!!


At the finish line

We did not have a lot of time left before the awards ceremony, so we quickly took some pictures and headed out. We met Keenan Follis, who was running strong, as we were heading to the car. I ate a quick plate of Nachos at Sprouts (this has become my favorite post-race meal now), took a shower, and headed to the awards ceremony.

In the 72-miler, Sean Meissner had come in second, only a few minutes after Akos Konya. Amazing! Sean (crewed by Thomas Reiss) had caught up with Akos in the last six miles and they had a race to the end. Reno's Lynard Skynrod won the Tahoe Triple in 8:35. He did not break Johan's world record, but that's still an amazingly fast time.


With Angel at the awards ceremony
Unfortunately, we did not see some of the other Super Triple runners at the awards ceremony, because most likely they were still out on the course. I'd be curious to know how they did. At the time of this writing the results have not been posted yet though.


The kids receive their awards (Shared 2nd place in the 14 and under age group)

After the ceremony, it was time to relax. We stayed one more night in Tahoe and had a huge breakfast the next day. As we drove home on the beautiful, sunny day, it was hard to imagine that it had been snowing and freezing cold the day before.

Thanks Chris, Rebecca, and Vicky for the awesome crewing support, and thanks Les, Angel, Lucia, and all the volunteers for putting on this great event. Thanks, also, to all of you who wished me good luck on the blog! We had a great time, and we'll definitely be back next year to defend the title. And, next year, I won't be running a double marathon the weekend before the Triple!

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