Monday, May 16, 2016

McDonald Forest 50k: Numero Cinco

Well, I don't race as often as I once did and I am not a gifted--or creative enough--writer to make training updates/run-babble exciting enough to share with the handful of people who read this so the blog's a bit slow these days...  but I am still here and still running.

I just looked back a bit and this blog pretty much started with a 50k race report back in 2012.  I've continued to run and jot down some thoughts here on that same race, McDonald Forest 50k, every year since which is pretty neato for a regular ol' dude like me.  2016's event would be my fifth consecutive running of the race.

When you run the same(ish--ok, this may be a stretch as the course has featured several semi-dramatic changes each year) course, with the same(ish) crowd, on the same(ish) weekend year after year you start to build a relationship with the whole ordeal that is pretty special.  Here's how it went this time:

Pre-Race (boring!):

I went into the race with a winter full of longer, slower, and bigger vertical weekend runs and many other workouts/training blocks were often interrupted by bouts with illness--mostly cough/sinus stuff but even a couple of flu type deals which I guess is a parental right of passage when babies go to daycare/germ factories.  This constituted the training build up for the Backbone Trail adventure in early March.  I got back after that trip and got sick again before finally seeing a doc for some antibiotics that had me feeling somewhat relieved of symptoms at last but with a battered set of lungs.

I still had hope that in 2 months I could use the base from the winter stuff and sharpen things up with a good dose of quality workouts beyond the "treadhills" I ran all winter in the garage.  I had an inclination to sign up for the Mac but it was a done deal after a surprise FB message hit my wall from the world's greatest running blogger Pat T (of cult classic site "Mountain Made, Molehill Paid") that showed he had registered for the event and he even wanted to "put a 6 pack on it."

Just when my morning runs were starting to see some daylight I was forced back into darkness and up even earlier, often around 3:30 to be up and rolling around 4 or so in order to be at work by 6ish (summer hours).  That's always a brutal transition but I pulled off a few longer weekday runs and "shorter long runs" (in the 2hr range) on weekends that were encouraging but my optimism was always shadowed just a bit by the constant flow of "life stuff" that a busy Spring shipping season at work always brings on top of an already full plate.  I missed more than a few runs that probably wouldn't make a big difference in my fitness overall but at the time seemed like critical pieces to the puzzle.  That can create a stress that only a runner knows and only a long time and confident runner can shrug off in the moment.

Come race day I deduced that the Mac would serve it's perennial purpose of inspiring me to just do whatever I can during a hectic time of year and I shouldn't have any expectations (good or bad).  Just finish feeling stoked no matter what.  Which is a fine place to be mentally anyhow no matter what the race or how the training goes...

Race Day:

One thing that was super "cool" about this year was the weather which was hot all week (like 80s) was expected to take a quick turn over Friday night and we could expect highs in the 60s and possibly some rain.  Like clockwork the thermostat was dialed down and the rain came in over night with some thunder.  It was dry skies (wet ground) at the start but someplace earlier on it began to rain and did so constantly through my eventual finish (and beyond).

Even cooler than a little cold front moving in this year was something else coming in for the event:  Michael McGraw, my faithful Backbone Trail adventure partner, jammed over from Outer Mongolia (Joseph), Oregon for the big event.  It was so fun to share this experience with him.  I initially thought he was a bit crazy to drive 6 hrs for such a down home little 50k it later occurred to me that this gig perfectly matched his laid back attitude and desire to run challenging kick-ass courses.  He did awesome in the race and in the pre and post race daddy duty assistance (my wife, Kattie, had a very busy weekend on tap).

Race (Jesus, it's about time):

The race itself was pretty amazing.  I don't profess to be some kind of "soul-runner" but this thing went down in about the most hippie fashion I can muster.  I've mentioned a couple paragraphs back that my less than epic training (I don't know if I'll ever feel I've obtained epic status there) helped me pitch the expectations out the window.  Screw it.  This would just be a celebration of running joy (hippie term), friends (hippie for "competition"), and beauty (hippie for "trails").  So, that no expectations attitude coupled with the fact that I don't currently own a functioning wearable timepiece of any sort (can't even find the trusty Timex, yet alone the power cord for my Garmin) put this gig firmly in the "RUN PURELY BY FEEL/RUN YOUR OWN RACE" category.  And that is about as hippity-dippity as it gets.  Bro.  Dude.  DUDEBRO.

The runners yelled "BONZAI" 3 times at the start and the Forest became alive with all the energy released.  Oh man...  there it is again, sooo hippie.  Then the bang of the gong and we were off.

picture taken by Michael Liebowitz

I went out with the front-ish runners and after a few easy miles ended up in 3rd after a couple guys who were a hundred yards up or whatever.  The pace was likely brisk but the trail is easy and the effort felt appropriate.  Without a watch was fine for running a trail race but a big change when it came to fueling.  I needed to think about things and pay close attention to my energy levels to guess when it was time to fire some gels and salt tabs down the hatch.  This was weird at first but then became pretty instinctual; kind of a nice departure from the robotic/automatic timing I usually try to stick to when fueling for races.  I would never recommend this on a completely new race/route but it worked well for me here and fit even better with my hippie-soul runner theme for the day. 

After AS1 at 8 miles or so I didn't see 1 and 2 anymore.  I don't think they stopped at all.  I did stop but not for long, just enough time to be way overly friendly, "Water?  Oh man, that would be sooooo awesome.  You guys are awesome.  Thanks everyone!  Thanks for filling my bottle duuuuudesss!" (The teenage kids looked at me like: "uhhhhh, weirdo.") 

On the long climb up (which I ran all of but was very cautious to not push because it's too early for those antics) to the top of Dimple AS2 (14ish miles) number 4 runner was closing in a bit.  He continued to close and caught up to me down in the Maze's mud and steep treachery (quite fun actually).  We bopped along together in there for awhile which was nice.  I like company when it's slower going due to the technicality of the trails.  He was running really well and eventually pulled a way a bit.  Then I stopped and did a quick backtrack when I thought I missed a turn which probably put him further ahead.

I finally poked out of the twisting, muddy Maze trails for some words of encouragement from Dennis and Sharon before rolling down to AS3 for more "Hey everyone!!  Mr. Happypants is here!  Whoooweeee.  Coca-Cola?  Cool, ALL ABOARD THE COKE TRAIN!"  The older folks laughed (like sophisticated people do in situations were they don't know how else to address the weirdness) and again the teenagers just looked at me like I had 2 heads or something.  I turned to head up the road/trail to the top of Extendo and realized, unexpectedly, number 3 guy (one of the original 1-2 guys) was there at the AS too.  I left the station alone with a big huge "THANKS EVERYONE" but he promptly joined me for most of the climb before I lost him back in the muddy singletrack of the Maze section.  I tried to be steady throughout this section as I knew I'd be taking the last really big climb (Alpha Trail) pretty easy with some longer stints of hiking before arriving to AS4 (26ish miles).  I've learned that the last 5ish miles can be quite enjoyable if that hill is played right/cautiously.

I arrived at the last AS feeling pretty tired but not nearly as bad as I have felt in all previous years.  I was expecting to see Kattie and Alyce (now a year a change old!) there but didn't notice them after glancing around.  I had my "duuuuudes" fill the water bottle again and for the first time in the whole race I asked the AS volunteers "they're aways up, yeah?"  They said, "maybe 6 minutes."  Which actually just put me in a state of relief knowing I was going to finish this puppy the way it had been going all along.  On my own.  No chase.  Well, to make me feel invigorated they suggested it would be a chase but I just said "only if he loses a damn leg!  THANKS EVERYONE FOR EVERYTHING IN THE WHOLE WORLD!"

The last 5ish miles were awesome.  I ran every step up the last climb and all of the following miles felt effortless.  It even bordered on an outer-body experience at one point (but I won't go too far down that hippie path...)  I blazed the last mile (downhill, mostly, so that helps) smiling and whooping that I was going to get a podium finish in a race that means so much to me after all these years.  I couldn't believe 3rd was happening in a race that my not have big names running it but always features some of the best local talent--guys that work hard at their training, run smart, and race this thing like it's their Olympics (and honestly would likely scare the shit out of national level talent runners if they were to go to the "big dances").  Provided I didn't lose a leg it seemed the race was settled and "just stay upright" became a focus for a little bit in the last half mile.

Then I heard the sweet sounds of the bluegrass band and knew the finish was close.  I jammed over the bridge and crossed the finish backwards (tip of the hat to a local character perished during the Mac that famously ran the entire PDX marathon backwards). 

Kattie and Alyce made me feel like I was on top of the world with their excitement and I was so happy they made it to the finish in time after missing me at the last AS.  It was after a few minutes that I thought for the first time that day, I wonder what time it is...  The guy behind the computer at the finish line heard me ask Kattie what time it was and said, "you finished in 4:15:50something."  4:16!  I really had no idea I was getting a course PR (it was very similar to the '14 course for comparison purposes), I kind of figured the 3rd place was due to a bit slower crowd or some other factor but that's a pretty good time for a 50k with 6800' of elevation gain and plenty of technical sections along with the faster/smoother stuff.  Further stokeage to my already off the charts stoke. 

Since becoming a dad I also like to add a new category to the whole age group thing: Dad.  If you don't think it's worthy of a separate category that's fine but it's a game changer more than going from 29 to 30 is (from my perspective)...  anyway, best I can tell I was first dad to the finish line.

I got changed and grabbed MM's stuff from the car parked aways away from the finish but didn't make it back to the finish in time to catch his impressive 4:36 finish.  He freaking rolled the thing up for a first time in the area and first 50k in 3 years (he's largely moved on to 50+ mile craziness it seems).  We eventually got drier and warmer with a bowl of soup and cookies and called it a day picking up our tasty finisher beers on the way out of the Forest.

The event was epic.  Thanks to everyone who helped out.  Special congrats to my friend Dennis as he retires as RD for pulling off another fun day in the woods.  Looking forward to next year already.

vroom.  airplane wings at age 33.

Additional notes: Wore Nike Wildhorse, old fraying brooks shorts with pockets and singlet.  Ate 10-11 gels (mostly Vanilla GU with caffeine plus 1 or 2 Hammer from AS when those ran out), 9-10ish Salt Stick salt tabs (I was worried about my right calf as it felt almost like a cramp was coming for much of the race so I just kept them coming at a warm weather rate).  Drank 3/4 of bottle (16 oz?) between each AS.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Lessons Learnt On BBT Adventure

Quick list of takeaways from the trip and the actual run last weekend on Santa Monica Mtn's Backbone Trail.  I wrote a bit about the actual adventure here:

1) when the most reliable way to get back to rental car/starting point involves thumbing a ride from a random German tourist after walking a few more miles down the canyon road, arriving to Hwy1 and cell phone reception, dialing and getting a ride from an old stoner pal who is just the same dude he's been since way back when (complete with him blazing a bowl all the way down Hwy 1 just like the good ol days), and THEN signing up for an Uber account and getting 1st Uber ride ever for the final leg YOU KNOW YOU'VE NAILED ALL THE PLANNING.

2) follow your bowels: we accidentally nailed one not so obvious turn (unmarked per usual) by succumbing to our bowel movements. we saw a trailhead parking area and bathroom, ran down the access trail to destroy some toilets only to then see a sign right next to it reading "Backbone Trail".

3) bring TP/napkins:  They don't weigh much and when wet grass is the only natural alternative it's just, well, wet and grassy.  if there are bathrooms they are probably locked when you need 'em.

4) print the maps and study them. both people. multiple times. adventure partner MM seemed so on top of it (and he was, especially compared to me) printing little intersection maps and such that I got really relaxed and.... didn't do anything really.  oops.

5) technology is pretty cool but not when your screen and fingers are all wet. the BBT feels quite remote and some parts actually are (sort of) but it's all in LA for the most part. so i thought, like any Hollywood superstar, there wasn't a problem my cell phone couldn't handle/get me out of.  i spent more time fighting dropped pins in Cuba (google maps would zoom way out and drop pins wherever a little drop of mist hit the screen) than i wanted to.  this really boils down to #4 above.

6) the trail running world is tiny and friendly. we came up on a group of 3 runners to: "are you guys the ones running the whole thing today?" how did they know?!  they helped us not get lost 3-4 times until we really out did ourselves and got too lost for them to be able to reel us in.  we later learned that they were Ellen (a fellow SWAP "teammate") friends.  cool catz.

7) having a conversation about quitting is hard for some people to do within their own mind.  try doing it with another person (even someone as awesome as MM). 
"what'dya think?"
"I don't know man" (translation: we should stop here)
"it's gonna be late and dark and all..." (translation: we should stop here)
"ok, let's just go a little more" (translation: we should stop here)
"you feeling good" (translation:  I am a bit tired)
"yeah, I am alright" (translation: I am fucking tired)
"I don't know how good the phone reception will be" (translation: we should stop here)
"yeah, hitching a ride in dark is no bueno" (translation: we should stop here)
"ok, well, let's just keep going" (translation: we are stubborn grown up men)

8) more time in shoes=more funky smell. i always assumed there was some maximum level or funk that a shoe could possibly hold that was attained after 2 hours or so. wrong. it get's worse. way worse.

9) safety's numero uno. it's true just like mom always said. use your head.

10) even "incomplete" (because there's no such thing as "failed") adventures get BURGERS AND BEERS.

11) Airbnb profile pics (both host and digs) can be a bit misconceiving. Just an observation. The cats were real though. She forgot to mention sweet nighttime sounds of domestic disturbance across the narrow alley from time to time.

12) a pho place in the back of a run down convience store is actually a really good place to get a pre-adventure gut load up. so, just keep going past the tampons, cat food and Twinkies and order up!

13) you can try to run when you are (or have been) sick but be prepared for some revelations about your condition. it's just part of life though, no reason to stress about it. just kick back and go see a doctor every now and then (like once every 5-10 years?)

14) if you only have one car/ride park it at the finish and figure out how to get to the start... wait, actually just have 2 cars for the point to point adventure.

15) more time. we were under the gun to get in and get out. more time (had it been available) would have been super cool whether that time was spent prepping for the run or just going for a swim in the ocean it sure would have been nice to have.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Adventures on the Backbone Trail


Three years ago I wrote up a big ol' training plan to run the Backbone Trail ( -- good info and maps but the race is unfortunately now defunct) in Southern California while I was down there for Christmas.  I got off to a good start with the plan but eventually the training fizzled, I got back into my usual routine, and I ran a series of winter races culminating with a 5k dressed as Santa Claus on the flat streets of Palm Springs (versus 68 miles in the Santa Monica Mtns.)

I'd put the Backbone on the back burner since then.  Life's changed a lot in the past 3 years and it seemed that eeking out a respectable 50k finish was about as much as my further limited training schedule was going to allow me to accomplish.

But sometime last fall I just got on this adventure running streak and it led me to believe that maybe I could get in more long runs over the winter months and go for something bigger.  With that, the Backbone Trail plan was resurrected.

I wanted more time to adequately prepare but March 5th was as late as I'd be able to push it off before getting too far into nursery harvest season at work.  The months of March, April and May are perennially a very tough time for me to make much headway when it comes to training as it's exhaustingly busy, long days and I am typically wiped out and short on time.

With a course and a set date things were coming together.  My wife Kattie was not fond of the crewing idea once she learned that crewing would consist primarily of sitting in a car on the side of a canyon road all day long (not too far from beaches with restaurants and such).  She also was not keen on the idea of me going all alone.  So I mentioned to David Roche that perhaps another SWAP "teammate" would be interested in coming along.  It wasn't a half hour after mentioning it and Michael McGraw, an accomplish ultra (like 100 miler level) dude living in Augusta, GA was onboard.  I was pumped.

We sent dozens of emails back and forth and even had a 50 mile training weekend together as we prepared for the adventure ahead.  We were both aware of the FKT set years ago by M. Hartell and thought that on a good day and with a good effort we may be able to get within earshot of accomplishing a slightly lower time.  While that was good motivation to train a bit harder it was never a priority over finishing, having a good time, and just getting out and exploring a beautiful new area.

Planning was pretty straightforward: we'd fly into LA from our respective locations (PDX and Pasco, WA--MM had relocated to Joseph, OR in the interim), rent a car, stash water and limited supplies along course at major road crossings, sleep in an airbnb, run the trail, get a ride back to rental car, sleep, fly home.  Accomplishing all this between Friday morning and Sunday morning put us on a tight timeline but with work winding up for me and a new job for MM it was the best we could do.  We were determined to make it happen.


And for the most part, we did make it happen.

We flew in, stashed water (and got to see some of the incredible beauty along the route), slept in our airbnb, got up and ran.  But it was there that the adventure took a different turn.

By different turn, I mean the wrong turn.  The Backbone Trail is a remarkable trail that makes a pretty logical line across the canyons and ridgelines of the Santa Monica Mtns.  I'd be remiss if I didn't admit that the trail is even in really good shape and offers a lot of diverse running terrain ranging from smooth buffed out trail, rocky technical trail, shaded woodlands and exposed vistas.  But it is also a menagerie of trails, roads and fireroads that together form a series of tricky, unmarked or poorly marked intersections.  While we had prepared somewhat for this our lack of expertise in the area cost us quite a few wrong turns and several minutes of standing around.  We'd get some momentum going and then realize we'd missed yet another turn or have to stop for a minute or more and see which way was the right way and all the  momentum would have to be built back up again.  We kept our spirits high (and were even doing well on time despite our costly mistakes) but it kind of felt like just starting a 4 am workout over and over and over again.  A bit creaky and not a lot of flow (which is important to running a good run, to me).

We eventually made it to Kanan Rd. (mile 36.9) and by then had long recognized that we were going to be finishing long after our planned time.  This would have been fine but there were additional problems/challenges associated with a 7 o'clock finish.  Our ride back to the car was far from secured at this point as various options had fallen through somewhat last minute (one while we were on the trail).  Finishing in the dark with no extra clothing and not a lot of extra calories without a secure ride out of a pretty remote area with questionable phone service did not seem like a worthy pursuit--in fact it seemed foolish.  So when we got to Kanan we decided to keep going... but fully recognized that we'd likely not be taking on a whole lot more than the next section or so.

We arrived at Encinal Canyon TH which is mile 43.4 with ~48 miles on the GPS (though it was pinging at a low, low rate and was therefore probably around a couple miles shy of the actual distance we covered given all the switchbacks and poor service areas we'd gone through) and decided there that it was likely the last easy place to thumb a ride down to Hwy 1 and get back to the comforts of the rental car, burgers and beers.

I wanted to finish what we had set out to accomplish but I was fully okay with the decision made.  I had to admit to MM back at mile 25 that this wasn't my day, that I hadn't been feeling really good.  I'd been feeling pretty sicky all week long and during the past 2 months I have been quite sick with a series of colds and infections (cough, sinus/head, cough, sinus/head, repeat).  I made the best of it and did the best I could to train through it all with this goal on my mind but I could feel its effects and while I felt strong I had low energy levels and my breathing was especially laborious.  MM was a bit of tough one to read as we discussed pushing on a little more or heading down the canyon with our thumbs out.  I mean, I know he's a mentally tough dude who doesn't give a shit about a little discomfort or even a little risk but I think he was satisfied with the effort we'd put in and knew that getting to La Jolla Canyon/PCH at 7 or later with nothing but a soaking wet t-shirt and cars going by at 70mph was not a good place to be at any expense.

I learned a lot from the adventure and I hope to share it soon in another post.

Cheers!  And thanks for all the support!!  Dream a big dream and go for it because if you don't you won't!!!