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Thursday, December 31, 2009
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
For the next couple of months, I am going to focus my energy on something non-running related: Together with some of my colleagues, I am going to be writing a kick-ass book for Apress titled Pro HTML5 Programming. It's really exciting, because we're going to be one of the very first books on this cutting-subject and we're even going to incorporate a few running-related example applications ;-)
Sunday, October 25, 2009
I am very happy to report that I clinched the series title for the second time!
In 2007, I learned a few lessons about what it takes to win a grand prix series. That year, the series became a mano-y-mano duel with my good friend Scott Dunlap, and I ended up winning the series--and the associated $3000 supersonic mattress grand prize--by just one and a half points (out of 282 total points). In the end it all came down to the last race--if the overall 50-mile winner had run just a few minutes slower, I would taken second place. Way too close!
Some people have asked, so at the risk of shooting myself in the foot for a future grand prix series title attempt in 2011 (I am not running the entire series next year), I'll share with you my seven secrets for winning a grand prix running series. Actually, most of these concepts are so basic that they can hardly be called "secrets," but make a few mistakes and your series title hopes can be toast. There is some strategy behind it.
Having run quite a few of these series, I know now that it is actually possible for a non-elite runner (like me) to do quite well or even win. You don't have to be a mountain goat or even super fast. A firm aim coupled with some smart strategy and some hard work (and a little luck) is all you really need. It is true--the tortoise can beat the hair.
- Go For It!--That is, make the conscious decision to compete in the entire series up front, train for it, and add the races to your schedule. Entering one of the early races with a let's-just-see-what-happens attitude leaves a lot to chance.
- Start Out "Guns Blazing"--Once you have decided to really go for it, you want to create the biggest gap on the competition as you can in the shortest amount of time. You want to kick butt and take names starting at race number 1. This doesn't mean that you should show up at the first race and start running like a 10-year old, however. It does mean that you ramp up training well in advance of the first race and taper properly. The first series race is often early in the year and many people will skip running in the cold winter months; instead using the early races to get in shape. It certainly helps if you can be in great shape at the start of the very first race.
- Show Up--This, you could argue, is one of my specialties. As I mentioned before, you don't have to be the fastest runner or the best climber. If you're not at the starting line at 7 a.m. all those great strengths won't do you much good.
- Finish--David Goggins recently said: "It's not about winning; it's about not quitting." That's true. You really don't have to win every race outright to do well, but you have to actually cross the finish line at some point for your results to count towards your overall points.
- Every Minute Counts--While you're in a series race, keep moving forward. In the end, the series could be decided by just a few minutes, so you don't want to think back with regret about that time where you leisurely sat down at an aid station, chatting it up with your friends. For an hour. Also, if you really want to do well, organize a crew that can keep you moving. You can save a huge amount of time with a seasoned crew that is aware of all your preferences. (A huge thank you to Chris, Rebecca, and Troy for coming out to crew for me this year!)
- Read--Carefully read the series rules, and the individual race details, including course maps for races that you have not run before and scout out the race course before the race if you can. Your best race time is usually achieved when you run the most even pace throughout the race. Knowing the course will allow you to set specific time goals for a course.
- Super-Size It--Sometimes races offer a variety of distances. For example, a 6 or a 12-hour run, offering a series point per mile. Always run the absolute longest distance you can to pick up the most points possible. You never know. Sometimes things come up and you may have to miss one of the races (I missed one due to a nearby forest fire this year). Running the longest possible distance every time you can will put some points in the grand prix bank. Occasionally, however, it may pay off to run a shorter distance for some reason. Again, being familiar with the race details is key here.
Yesterday's Race--The Season Finale
Here's a quick report about yesterday's Jenkinson Lake Trail Run 50K.
The race offers a choice of up to four 8-mile, 95% single-track trail loops around Jenkinson Lake. It uses the same course as the Jenkinson Lake Spring Run, except that it was run in reverse and had an extra half mile.
There were some new faces at the start along with some die-hard grand prix racers trying to get some final points in the final race of the season--Gretchen, Lainie, Jethro, and Matt. The race started out fast, I led for the first 4 miles or so and then let the 16-milers set the pace. I chatted briefly with Swedish adventure racer Mats Jensen (last name?) who was running the 24-miler and then it became pretty quiet.
I cranked up some tunes on lap 2 and 3 and was in first place in the 50K, but slowing down a little bit each lap and walking more of the steep hills. The last month of less than 10 training miles and eating danishes was rapidly catching up to me. I plodded my way through the third lap and then, finally, it was time for the victory lap that I had been envisioning since the beginning of the year! The ultra series title was mine unless I fell into Lake Jenkinson and drowned.
Ed Walsh and a friend of his were manning the first aid station and Ed kindly kept me posted on where I was relative to the other 50K runners. A lot of runners dropped down to the 24-mile race and apart from Lainie, who was about five minutes behind me, there was nobody in sight. With the series win in the bag, it was hard to get motivated to pick up the pace significantly.
Lainie, who was running another strong race, passed me at the final aid station of the bell lap--both of us were happy to be done with the race and the series in general. Lainie went on to win the 50K and she also won the female grand prix title, followed by Gretchen and Jennifer Dicus.
I just kept running at my own pace until I reached the finish line, where Lainie, Jethro, and their parents, Matt, Robert, and Linda were all cheering. It was great to finish what I had started so long ago. A huge congratulations to all the other grand prix finishers and their support crews. Next year has even more races, including a new race at Bullard's Bar Dam that I will be designing the course for. Stay tuned for more details on that.
We had a short awards ceremony and the top-three winners overall, as well as the age group winners, received a truckload of goodies and prizes. For winning the series overall, I received an all-expense-paid vacation package worth $550 (the real reason my family was so supportive of these monthly races!) and another $200+ worth of useful other running-related goodies, like two pairs of Inov-8 shoes, Hammer gel, a Fuel Belt hydration pack, and more.
Thanks to Robert and Linda, Ed Walsh, and all the other great volunteers, and to the grand prix sponsors for making this an exciting (and rewarding) series. I'll take a break next year, but I may be back for the hat-trick in 2011! So far, in the series history (since 2004), only Beverly Anderson Abbs and I have won two series titles.
Next up: Relaxing... and a few interesting bike rides around Lake Tahoe and around the Sutter Buttes.
Thursday, October 8, 2009
Last week, after the Tahoe Triple race buffet, I finally had the privilege to meet Russell in person. He was in Tahoe to help coach some Texas runners to a successful Tahoe Triple finish. I also met Russell's German stage-racing friend Hans Drexler who was running the Tahoe Triple as a "short stage race." Russell was promoting his new book, Running Across Countries and he was also going to run a quick lap around the lake (this was, of course, canceled so he ran the 10K instead).
I bought a signed copy and Chris and Rebecca quickly devoured this 177-page book while they were waiting for me at the different crew stops along the lake. Before I knew it, they were yelling "inspirational" quotes from the book as they were pulling alongside me on the road. "Toughen up, Buttercup" had to be their favorite quote!
Running Across Countries is a book about Russell's favorite kind of race--the ultra stage race. Russell is definitely qualified to tell the story, having finished several runs across Germany, France, and to top it off, the 2009 edition of the Trans Europe Footrace, from Italy to Norway.
The book describes what it takes to run ultra stage races, what you can win (not a red cent), and it chronicles Russell's adventures at the stage races that he participated in--including the 2003 Tahoe Triple, and the 2008 Tahoe 72-Mile Ultra--in Russel's unique, light, and very humorous writing style.
I thoroughly enjoyed Running Across Countries; it's a real page turner and a must-buy for any ultrarunner (especially considering its attractive price). Running Across Countries provides a unique look into ultra stage racing. As an ultrarunner, I was very surprised at how much new information this book contained. It's definitely a different beast than the hundred-miler or any other "one-shot" ultra for that matter. The big difference is that you have to get up at 4 a.m. the next morning again to grind out yet another 40+miler.
64 days in a row.
Nutritional demands change, too. A normal prerace pasta dinner results in extreme fat and protein cravings. Running that long really seems to strip people down to their essence and the book explains that a few minutes of extra rest, a cup of hot Ramen noodles at an aid station, or an extra sandwich in the morning are the sort of thing that transcontinental runners long for the most. Running through pain is inevitable, even for the front runners, who amazingly cover 2800 miles at roughly a 3:30 marathon race pace.
I also appreciated Russell's approach to DNFs. He writes that "quitting is harder than keeping going," and to avoid a DNF (Did Not Finish) at all cost. "Never, ever drop out unless there is a compelling medical issue like a broken leg, or a heart attack." That exactly sums up my approach to ultrarunning. I know this is a very controversial issue in the ultrarunning community. It's the "Never-DNF" approach against "Save -it-for-another-day" and nobody is right, of course.
I do think that there is a mental "DNF treshold" though, which is slightly lowered every time a race is abandoned (this is just my take on things--to each his own). Being absolutely convinced that you can and will finish is even more important in long stage races, because you are bound to go through some pretty bad lows and your mind will start playing tricks with you. Not even having the mental option to DNF can be a race-saver in those cases.
In the beginning of Russell's book, he credits another book about stage racing--Running the Trans America Footrace by Barry Lewis--as the source of inspiration for Russell's trans-continental running, and now Russell has passed it on. Running a long ultra stage race sounds like a great adventure to me--definitely on my list of things to do. Now I just need to strike it rich and retire early, because transcontinental racing is not exactly cheap and I don't think I want to wait until I am 65!
Sunday, October 4, 2009
On Saturday, I had to fly to Denmark for work. However, I also wanted to run the Gold Country 50K (and pick up some ultrarunner.net grand prix points to stay in first place) that day, but knew I would never be able to finish it in time for my 1 o'clock flight (it is about a 45-minute drive to the airport from Auburn). Skipping the race would be risky though (I just might lose my first place overall).
Monday, September 28, 2009
We just came back from another Tahoe Triple Marathon weekend. Here's the recap:
Training and organization for the Super Triple started long before the actual race. I took a little break from running after a great series of spring races and kicked off my training again in July. My goals were to (a) run sub-19, (b) run sub-20, or (c) just finish the race. Goals a an b would probably be enough for a fourth straight win. A good run at the Lake of the Sky trail marathon two weeks before the race proved (to me) that I was ready. I put in the training for this target race. Unfortunately, for reasons beyond my control, these goals will have to wait for next year to be realized.
Chris, Rebecca, and I headed down to the Horizon Casino for the annual pre-race briefing. There were lots of familiar faces to catch up with: RD Les Wright, Triple coordinators Angel and Lucia, fellow 3-time Super Triple finisher Keenan Follis, and many other runners that I had run with in previous years.
Sean Meissner and Thomas Reiss gave the now oh-so-familiar--but still very entertaining--pre-race speech about running the three consecutive marathons and most of the first-time triplers were soaking up the information. Speaker Bart Yasso told us some funny anecdotes from his long running career, and after the pre-race dinner, I met Russell Secker, who had recently run across Europe (check out his new book titled "Running through Countries").
It was a pretty hot day (with temperatures near record highs), so I held back a little bit in the second half of the marathon, walking some of the uphills. I ran 3:30--a little slower than I had hoped for, but OK given the warmer weather. I was first in the Super Triple with Lambert Timmermans 15 minutes behind me.
I decided to buy some ice and soak my legs in the bathtub instead of standing in the lukewarm lake (less time in the sun). The rest of the day we spent relaxing. Vicky and the kids joined us in the evening and she brought some killer home-made lasagna for dinner.
Just before dinner, I decided to quickly check my mail and, just like that, my race was over.
As it turned out, the Lake Tahoe Marathon (LTM) organization had applied for a permit too late and Cal Trans and NDOT, being the running fans they are, had denied the permit to run the race. For LTM to continue to host the race would be a pretty bad violation, so everyone was offered a refund or a "downgrade" to the marathon. Super Triple runners could simply run the kids' run, er I mean the the Triple, instead, since they had already finished Day 1. The only alternative was that runners could run an unofficial "72-mile jog" around the lake by themselves.
Some other runners suggested I run the unofficial run, but honestly, that did not make sense to me. If I wanted to just run around the lake at night for fun, I could do that any time. I felt a bit confused; mad and sad at the same time. Mostly, I was wondering what I should do now. Should I go after a certain place in the Triple or just have fun?
The regular Triple, felt like a 5K in terms of raw speed. When I trained for my sub-3 marathon in April, I had done a lot more speed work. Now the focus for the Super Triple had been much more on long runs and perfecting long distance power-walking. I can now easily power-walk 12-minute miles for hours on end and I think that is one of the keys to Super Triple success. You know you're not going to be able to run the entire distance, so the key is to cover lots of ground while you're walking.
I decided to at least finish the regular triple (this way, I'll have three regular and three super triple finishes), but--for once--have some fun with it, too. Why not back off the pace just a little bit, and enjoy the scenery, the mountain air, listen to some music?
At the start of the second marathon, I did just that. The first 10 miles is mostly downhill from Spooner Summit to Incline Village. I cranked up some music on the iPod and flew down the hill. Suddenly, an rare runner's high kicked in that lasted pretty much throughout the entire run.
With about ten miles to go, a couple of runners passed me. One of them was running just the Saturday marathon (The LTM offers a-la-carte marathons on Friday and Saturday). With three miles to go, Vicky and the kids drove by and Rocky yelled out of the window that it was time to "catch some bogies." Sure enough one of the runners came back into sight. First 300 yards out, then 200. Maybe I could still pick up one more place.
We entered the downtown area of Tahoe City. Maybe too much distance to cover, maybe not. I sped up some more and kept inching closer and closer. With about 100 yards to go I surged past the other runner and blasted to the finish with Rocky and Sean running next to me on the sidewalk. I finished in 9th or 10th place overall and would have been first again in the Super Triple. I heard LT pulled out with some knee issues in Incline Village--I hope that heals up before you next 100-miler in two weeks, LT!
We had planned out a good routine for after the second marathon. In the Super Triple, you only have about 10 hours until the start of the 72-miler, so it is important to be efficient. Now that I would have a full night of rest, we could afford to take it easy. I stuck around and chatted with some of the other runners and I spent the rest of the day relaxing and icing the legs in the bathtub again.
The final marathon of the Triple is run with the regular (single) marathon and thus with a much larger crowd. Before the race started I caught up with Oswaldo Lopez, who looked like he was in great shape to go after a fast time in the 72-miler. Maybe he could even get close to Rae Clark's 9:06. His attempt will also have to wait another year, due to the 72-mile ultra run cancellation. Oswaldo was going to run the marathon instead.
Before the start, I met Gretchen and Turi. I had run with both of them only two weeks earlier in the Lake of the Sky trail marathon. Sean Meissner looked ready to go, but he would definitely have some tough competition. For example, Lynryd Skynrod, who was first in the Triple had been cranking out some very fast times (2:43 and 2:54 on days 1 and 2) and Ian, and English runner, had been pretty close behind him.
I paced a few miles with Gretchen, who had been out with a cold all week. She was not sure if she was going to run until the day before the race. Well, it was a good thing she did, because she went on to win the marathon--Go Gretchen! (Oh, and I am now adjusting your target time for the Helen Klein 50-miler to sub-7:00, Gretchen!)
I had fun chatting with some of the marathon runners, including a runner from Costa Rica, who was running his first marathon. I am pretty sure he made it sub-4. I also ran with Dr. Jeff Shapiro, talking about the negative effects of pain killers and too much food during a race. Jeff is a co-organizer for the 200-mile Relay in Napa, which might be a fun race to put on next year's schedule.
Having fun and running three marathons on three days are not often found in one sentence, but I was enjoying the beautiful weather and the fantastic scenery. It was nice to run with one of the lanes of the highway closed for a change, too.
That said, It was bit hard to get a good running rhythm going on the flat parts of the course, but as soon as I entered the hills, things felt better. I would power-walk the uphills and run all the downhills hard, making up for the slower pace on the flats. Sure, the legs were feeling it after so many road miles, but overall I felt OK; the end was in sight.
Troy crewed for me on day 3 and kept me fed and watered throughout the race. It was another hot day and it was nice to have some extra water and Gatorade between aid stations. The volunteers on the course and at the aid stations were also doing an awesome job keeping everybody hydrated.
Once you reach mile 72 in the Triple, at Inspiration Point, you have run around the entire lake. The final 6 miles after that are mostly downhill. First steep downhill and then more gradual and flat.
I could still make it under 4 hours if I kept going steadily and I made it with a minute and a half to spare. I saw Turi at the finish, who had finished just a few minutes ahead of me. Gretchen had won the female title and, as expected, Sean Meissner had come in first in the marathon. A great win on a hot day.
Florida's Leslie Stallings won her first Triple, even though this was her first ultra and her only goal was to finish. She pushed hard and it paid off. Lynryd Skynrod won his second Triple and smoked a celebratory cigarette almost immediately after crossing the finish line. Rumor has it that he is considering the much gentler and more lucrative sport of cage-fighting instead of running another Tahoe Triple.
We hung out at the finish on Pope Beach for a while, catching up on race stories and picking up the awards. IRunFar's Bryon Powell was there as well, getting ready to pace Kilian Jornet's TRT-165 speed record attempt. I would have loved to come out to pace or crew for that as well, except, doing that the day after the Triple would probably not be the best idea.
Finally, a huge thank you to Vicky, Sean, Rocky, Chris and Rebecca, Troy and Zimfira, and Rory for helping me even though the event we planned for never happened. You rock and I simply could not have done it without you. Thanks!
Friday, September 25, 2009
Since the 72-Miler is the last leg of the Super Triple, this unfortunately ends this year's attempt to win my fourth straight Super Triple. For what it's worth, I ran a 3:30 "warmup" marathon today (7th in the Triple, 1st in the Super Triple) and came in 15 minutes ahead of the next Super Triple runner, Riverside's Lambert Timmermans. It was a really hot day, with temperatures hitting near record highs around the lake.
It's a really weird feeling to be sitting here after so much preparation. At this point, I suppose I'll join the Tahoe Triple "fun run" tomorrow. Not sure if I'm going to go hard or just have fun. By the way, thanks to everyone sending me good luck wishes before the race--that really meant a lot to me!
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
I'll try to post some updates over the weekend and send me those positive vibes!
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
With two weeks to go before the Super Triple, it was time for a final long run at elevation, and as luck would have it, the Lake of the Sky Trail Runs, which is part of the ultrarunner.net series, was held on Saturday.
Matt Thau and Jethro Smith showed no signs of slowing down their pursuit of ultrarunner.net series points, so having missed the Hotter than Hell race in August due to a forest fire, it was important to pick up some points in this race. Also, it would be fun to chat with running friends, old and new.
I had run this section of the Tahoe Rim Trail before--once in the 2007 version of the Lake of the Sky 50K a week after the Super Triple and once during my TRT thru-run (mile 91-110)--and thoughts of this section were always associated with keywords like "pain," "suffering," "slow," and "exploding lungs." This time, of course, I was fresh, but I still had a healthy respect for the serious elevation changes on this section, especially the steep start.
My shoe choice for the race was, for once, an actual trail shoe--the Saucony Progrid Xodus. I had recently won a pair in Dave "Running Trails in Atlanta" Schoenberg's blog shoe give-away and this would be a good test. Typically, I run a lot of the trails in road shoes, but I knew this section of the TRT was going to be very rocky, so I wanted a little bit more support.
The Xodus shoes are very light for a trail running shoe and they provide excellent cushioning and traction thanks to their super-grippy Vibram soles. I was really happy I picked these shoes and will definitely use them again for trail races.
Just before the race started, I ran into Turi "Runnin' Round Reno" Becker, who is training for the Lake Tahoe Marathon in two weeks. Turi decided to run this race on a whim, instead of a self-supported training road run around the lake--a good choice (I think).
Like me, Turi was running "just-the-marathon." But wait, if that was the case, why did we have different bib colors? It was a good thing Turi noticed this, because I had accidentally been given a 50K bib. We straightened that out and it was time for the 7 a.m. start.
I tried to start my Garmin Forerunner, but it would not cooperate. It has been harder and harder to start it lately, but I think it has finally died for good. No worries though, because my plan was to simply run a nice, easy long run--I did not really need any mile splits.
Close to 90 runners lined up for four different events: the 36-mile "50K," the Marathon, the 2-Person Marathon-Relay, and an 8-mile race. For the first 7 miles, I paced a while with female GP points leader Lainie Callahan-Mattoon, who had recently won the Hotter than Hell 6-Hour run. We caught up on our fall race plans. Lainie is signed up for the Sierra Nevada Endurance Run (a double marathon), which is one of my favorite races. The only problem with that race is that it is usually held on the same weekend as the Tahoe Triple. Good luck at SNER, Lainie!
I paced a few more miles with Alan and Caroline Barichievich from South Lake Tahoe--two very strong uphill runners--and after the second aid station (9 miles), I ran by myself to the turnaround at Watson Lake.
Before I reached the turnaround, I met two marathon runners that were already on their way back. One of them was Tahoe City's Chris Luberecki. I had seen Chris's name in a lot of local race results and it was nice to finally meet Chris in person.
Chris was running in the relay with his wife Elisa, but unfortunately, she got lost on the way back. To my surprise, the volunteers at the Watson Lake aid station told me that I was the first non-relay marathoner on my way back. Mind you, this was a fairly small event with only about 20 runners in the marathon and about forty runners in the 36-miler.
The other runner I had met on my way to the turnaround had been part of Tyler Curley's winning relay team from Auburn (Their winning time was 3:57:59). Hmmm, running up front was not the plan. I was here to cruise in a training run, not to race. That said, there was only a half marathon left and I definitely had not gone out too fast...
I set my stopwatch to see how far I was ahead of the second and third place marathon runners and it looked like I had a 6-8 minute lead shortly after the turnaround--too close for comfort. I turned it up a notch and started going faster on the downhills and powerwalked the hills at a faster-than-normal pace. I knew that if I could make it to the 20-mile mark, or to the aid station at mile 22 in first place, I would have the win in the bag--I love downhill finishes--but I still had quite a few miles to go.
On my way back I ran into a runner going in the other direction. She shouted "I read your blog," but before I could register what she said, I was already 50 yards ahead. Thanks! I found out after the race that it had been Ivy "Strong Legs and Pancakes" Chastain--a runner from Reno whose running blog I've been following myself. Ivy is planning to run the entire TRT next year and she's scouting out a lot of the individual sections already.
I kept looking over my shoulder every 5 to 10 minutes, but to my surprise there were no challengers. I cranked up the iPod with some tunes from my favorite DJ (and fellow Dutchman) Tiesto (his Club-Life podcasts, available on iTunes, are great, free, and great for running).
At the 22-mile aid station, I grabbed some water and a last gel and continued to rocket down the final downhill section, covering 4 miles in less than 27 minutes. Like I said, I love those downhill finishes! Speaking of which, can't we reverse the Rucky Chucky 50K (at least every other year)?
I stuck around a bit and watched the other runners finish. I talked to Jefff Halligan who had come up from Idaho for a training run and I also met Erin Lenzi, who was also running the relay with her husband as part of her final preparation for the Tahoe Triple (they came in second).
As it turned out, my looking over my shoulder had been completely unnecessary, because the next marathon runner showed up more than 40 minutes behind me. Oh well, it had been good motivation to get done quickly!
I thoroughly enjoyed Linda's post-race buffet and talked to some of the other runners. Then decided to soak my legs in the lake and have a nice latte at Tahoe House Bakery, before heading home.
Thanks to Robert, Linda, and all the volunteers for the well-run event and special thanks to volunteer George, who spent 9 hours marking the course perfectly!
Next Up: The main event--The Tahoe Super Triple! Defending the title for the fourth time. Wish me luck!
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.