Monday, November 12, 2012

Mt Tam 50k race review

Mt Tam Trail Run from
My day started at 6:30 am driving north on HWY 280 heading for Stinson Beach. The race start was scheduled for 8:30 and my gps tells me my drive is one hour and fifteen minutes long. That gives me 45 minutes to sign in, pin my bib on, use the restroom, stretch out, use the restroom for a final time and start running. I arrived one hour and forty minutes later and had twenty minutes to accomplish all that was needed. Bathroom was first. So many bathrooms are available at Stinson Beach that the race director did not have to truck in any porto pottys. Check in seemed a bit confused but when we approached the table we were able to check in, receive our bibs and my wife was able to drop down to the 10k event all in a few minutes. Back to the car for water belts, hand helds, and a final inventory of all that is going out on the trail and all that is staying in the car. Some dynamic stretching while we headed over to the crowd that had gathered to hear the pre-race instructions. We missed that part but we are experienced trail runners so we don't need to hear how to follow a course that we have already memorized or how its bad juju to litter. The instructions that we were present for were muffled and hard to hear and understand. Typical small bullhorn fidelity.
The race started on time at 8:30. What an incredible day for running. It was just slightly on the cold side which was easily overcome with a set of arm warmers. The race starts at sea level, literally and climbs via the Steep Ravine Trail to the Pantoll Parking lot for about 3 miles and 2000 ft of elevation. This is a brutal way to start a race in my opinion. I don't mean that as a negative. I am actually attracted to the more difficult races. It's not exactly a positive either. Because of the way the course was laid out I would be back climbing this hill for miles 19 through 22 and if you think running slowly over most of it is hard just wait till you walk most of it in about 4 hours from now. I purposely started towards the back of the mid pack and tried to not push the pace at all even though my adrenaline could have pushed me much faster. I walked when others walked. Not that I needed to but as part of my conservation strategy.
There’s a Cold Front Coming Through. Shop Under Armour ColdGear.
Just off the Pantoll parking lot about a half mile down Old Mine Trail sat the first aid station and the hub of the entire race. No matter what distance you were running, everybody passed through this aid station. 10k runners will turn around and head back down to the start via The Dipsea Trail so they only get the pleasure of this oasis one time today. Half Marathoners and the 30k runners will be here twice today. The 50k lunatics will pass through four times today and twice at the other aid station.
The aid station was impressive. Trail mix, pretzels, oranges, salt pills, coke, sprite, water, electrolyte drink, shot bloks, gu's, potatoes and salt for dipping, chips, cookies etc etc. The variety is excellent. I ate a few of the sports beans I was carrying on the way up to the aid station so I didn't want to over do it by eating too much. After fueling up on a pb & j finger sandwich and a few peanut butter filled pretzels I topped off my hand held water bottle and headed out with a couple of the 30k runners.
A half mile down the trail we split. They stayed right and bypassed Muir Woods and I ran straight through Muir Woods all the way to the Panoramic Highway. At times we were really going fast. I was with a group of 3 and we ran this section averaging 8 minute miles or better.That was a really nice section to run but soon we hit the trail called Fern Creek and The Lost Trail, and neither should be taken lightly. They are steep and you will walk parts of them. If you don't you may regret it later in the race. The fun of that fast downhill was now evident in my screaming quads as I trudged up these trails. All the way around Muir Woods, past the Tourist Club and out of the park the 50k course meets back up with the 30k course at aid station #2. I was feeling really strong at this point. I felt as though I had conserved well, ate enough but not too much and was keeping a relatively decent average pace at about 12:30 per mile.
This aid station was stocked just like the first one and I was tempted to try a little bit of everything but I knew better. I had eaten a few more sports beans along the last 6 mile stretch to get here so another pb & j finger sandwich, dixie cup of coke a shot blok and I was good. The nice volunteer lady filled my hand held with water and I was off. I had only two small sips from the bottle in my waste pack so no need to top it off. It was full of frozen Cytomax and it was still mostly frozen at this point.
Redwood Creek Trail was our route out of this aid station. The next mile and a half or so felt flat with a slight uphill that eventually dropped you back down to a road that you cross over. On the other side of this road was a trail called The Heather Cutoff. This is a series of never ending switch backs that climb roughly a thousand feet in a little over a mile on narrow rutted out single track. This opened up to more of a fire road called the Coast View Trail that continued our climb an additional 1000' for almost 2 more miles. I ran most of these sections and that may have been a mistake. I could have exercised some conservation here but instead I found it easy to get into a rhythm and just keep pushing all the way to the top with only a few momentary breaks to reset my breathing.
Aid station #3 was aid station #1. I had come full circle, next we would drop back down for almost 3 miles on The Dipsea Trail descending 2000' feet down to Stinson Beach where we started. The aid station was a welcome site after that crazy climb. I ate a few bites of this and that and refilled my water bottle. The Cytomax finally got put to use this last section so I topped it off a tiny bit with their Cliff Shot Electrolyte Drink and headed back down to Mary who would be waiting for me.
The Dipsea Trail is very similar to running down the emergency stairs from the top of the 1700' foot Sears Tower. That's really a good comparison because the Dipsea is a never ending succession of stairs made of 6 x 6 lumber on the shallow stairs and 2 x 12's on the straight down sections. The flat or rolling section of the trail leading to Stinson is minuscule in comparison to the stair section. This really beat me up. Combined with the monster climb I had just done my legs were hurting. I felt great what seemed like minutes ago but now the wheels were falling off the wagon. I made it back to Arenal Avenue where we started. At the end of the quarter mile block you turned left into the Stinson Beach parking lot and straight into the finish shoot, if your running the 30k. The 50k runners stopped at an aid station just before the shoot started. It looked just like the other aid stations out on the course accept a larger food area was just behind this aid station as well as a T-Shirt Area and various other canopies.
Mary saw me come in and came to greet me with a quick kiss and a bit of "hi, how are you" as we headed for the food. I snacked on the usual cliff bloks, orange wedges and p b & j finger sandwich's. A shot or two of coke would top me off. 500 junk calories in minutes and we were topping off the bottles and headed for the bathroom on the other side of the parking lot. A quick pit stop and I was headed back across the parking lot. A quick top off on the hand held, another kiss and I was gone. This was a longer aid station than usual and truth be told I wanted to call it a day and hit the big food table but I just can't quit. The thought of heading out on these beat up legs to do a half marathon repeat of what I just did was awful.
I walked up Arenal Ave almost depressed and started up the 2000' foot climb that started my day this morning. I snapped out of the funk just enough to remind myself to "run when you can, walk when you must." I started running but it didn't last long. When the trail splits left and becomes Steep Ravine Trail it was just too much for me. I walked the vast majority of this climb and blamed it on running all the way up the Heather Cut Off and Coast View Trail earlier. I ran when I could and walked when I had to and eventually I made it to the top. It was 15 minute pace and my average for the day was slipping. I trotted my way down the last half mile of trail to the aid station grateful to not be climbing anymore.
Mary was at the aid station and the same scene from an hour earlier replayed itself. I saw a sign that said the next aid station was 2.3 miles away and the finish was 2.9 after that. I knew it was wrong so asked the aid station person who confirmed what I had just read. That just couldn't be. I am around mile 22 with about 10 more miles to go. You say I have 5.1 to go? The first piece of food I went for was the pb & j finger sandwich. It hit my stomach and nearly came back up instantly. I said through a mouthful of chewed pb & j "Hey lets go check out the ocean." as I made my way towards a cliff edge. Mary came up behind me as I spit out the chewed sandwich discreetly. I complained about the misinformation at the aid station while I walked off my sour stomach. A couple sips of water and a bit of venting later and I was back at the aid station topping off my bottles and double checking those distances again. Another confirmation, a quick kiss and I was headed down the trail.
I was 100% certain that the next aid station was 2.3 miles away and all downhill. The guy that left the aid station at the same time as me picked up the conversation and told me all that I already knew about how far the aid station was away and that we could cruise downhill the whole way and let gravity do all the work. After that he explained how we would climb the Heather Cut Off and that it was "runnable but really tough." Runnable? We'll see about that! I thought. I was hurting pretty bad and in no mood to chat so I faded back a few paces. I'm a minimalist shoe guy so I was mesmerized by this guys Hoka One One shoes. Those things are massive marshmallows that must be horrible for the first half of the race but heavenly in the second half of the race. I say this because I would kill for that cushioning right about now. I noticed this guys right shoe collapsed in and pronated real bad and I wondered if he fought knee problems on the right side. It took a mile and a half of trotting painfully before my legs let loose and I picked up a decent stride. I passed by the nice guy and in the last mile gained a quarter mile on him.
I entered the aid station and grabbed my usual treats. I had munched on some sports beans every few miles so I never really needed much at the aid stations. Nice guy came in next and a girl I had seen a few times throughout the day followed behind him. This was the second time being at this aid station and I knew it was 5.1 miles back to the main aid station. This was the distance they weren't telling me about. I knew they were wrong but like a stroke victim I could not articulate  my thoughts on the matter.
Leaving out of the aid station I followed behind nice guy for a bit until I passed him and got passed by the girl that just came into the aid station. She was looking strong, very light on her feet and her form looked really good. She blew by fast and I didn't have any illusions about keeping up with her. We made our way down the Redwood Creek Trail and over to the Heather Cut Off. I had gained a decent lead on nice guy but he was able to do just as he said he would and ran all the way up to the top. Half way up he passed me. Towards the top where the trail turns to the Coast View Trail two more females who seemed to be running together on purpose passed me by. They too looked strong with good form but I saw them in the distance take a few walk breaks so I knew they were fading. I would start to close the gap as they walked and they would run on out of sight a few minutes later. That scenario repeated itself all the way to the aid station.
The fourth and last visit to this aid station was a welcome rest but rather unremarkable. I was absolutely wasted form the monster climb I just did and filled with mixed emotions. Happy to have 2.9 miles to the finish but dreading the trail down. I topped off my bottles and took down a few snacks before heading back down the emergency stairs of the Sears Tower. Nobody in sight ahead of me and no one that I knew of was close behind me. I trotted down the Dipsea until I hit the stairs. I forced myself to run down these stairs rather than trying to lower my aching self down step by aching step like I wanted too. I needed this to be over. I made it to the bottom of the stairs and trotted along the rolling hills section eventually falling back down to Arenal Avenue where I struggled to the finish line.
I ran my first 50k 6 weeks or so earlier on many of these same trails. This time around I had walked a lot less, felt much stronger through out the day and knew that I was going to blow up my inaugural PR by an hour or so. I made the left turn at the end of Arenal Ave and into the finish line shoot. I saw the clock and read 7:40:00. 10 minutes faster than my first attempt. Sweet relief washed over me as well as disbelief in the timing. I checked my watch distance for the first time all day. It said I ran 35 miles. I backed it down to what the race director said was 32 miles. This took my 13 minute pace and pushed it to 14:15 pace. Mary promptly reminded me that this course had 1000' ft of climbing more than the last one and that can have an exponential effect over the course of the race. She also said a new PR is a better performance and that I should be proud but I really wanted a sub 7 hour time. I sat on a picnic table bench and ate a chocolate chip cookie and drank two cartons of chocolate milk. I wanted more food and more rest but I wanted to go home the most. We gathered up our belongings and staggered our way over to the car.
A big congratulations goes out to Leor Pantilat of San Carlos who was the overall winner in 4:22:50. Thats 8:12 pace!!!! For the females Erica Namba took top honors in 5:40:13 beating out the next fastest female by over an hour!!!! Good job for showing us how to get it done. Results can be seen here and pictures of the event are posted here.
Inside Trail put on a knock out race. Everything was top notch. If I had to give some constructive criticism, the aid stations seemed kind of far apart given the difficult terrain in between. I understand topography determines aid station placement but adding one more in would have been nice. The psychological effect of having to leave the aid station/ finish line area after 19 miles of running only to go back out for a 13 mile loop of what you just ran is an especially sadistic twist to the course difficulty. Overall the race is awesome and put on by a well run outfit. I think I'll take another crack at the 50k in about 4 weeks at their Woodside Ramble Event. Until Then...
See Ya in the Woods,