Thursday, December 11, 2014

The North Face Endurance Challenge - Half Marathon

A few months ago when I just started this whole running thing, I didn't really have any particular races in mind.  I was just running because it felt right and because I wanted to be a better runner.  But of course the competitor in me eventually said it was time to race.  I didn't want the pressure of PR'ing anything, so the best candidate was a trail race.  Naturally I wouldn't pick anything easy, so I went with The North Face Endurance Challenge half marathon distance.  13.5 miles and 2600 feet of elevation.  Sounds challenging?  Perfect!

The morning of the race started pretty damn early.  5:30am to be exactly.  The race didn't start until 8am, but the only way to get to the start is via the shuttles which left at 6:30.  Typically I don't sleep before races, and this was no different.  I was wide awake as soon as the alarm went off.

The rest of the journey to the start was fairly uneventful.  Breakfast, zero traffic, tons of parking, shuttles.  I think we got to the starting area just after 7am.  PLENTY of time to relax.

The gun went off at 8am.  My goal for the race was to try and stay with the lead pack as long as I could.  That went out the window almost immediately.  It was just over a mile to the first climb, but things were already broken up.  I felt decent, but I didn't really have any desire to chase the leaders.  The race is about an hour and a half, and I didn't want to blow it in the first five minutes.  Patience was the key.

The first climb up Miwok was my first low of the day.  On the first climb!?!  Yep, I felt flat going up.  At least ten people must have passed me on that climb.  Maybe it was patience again, but I don't think I could have hung with those dudes if I wanted.

I started to feel OK again once we hit the descent into Tennessee Valley.  I had a lot of ground to make up, but it was still early in the race.  I chose NOT to break any ankles today and just maintained the distance to the guy ahead of me.  I eventually passed him in the valley on the way to the next climb.  It wasn't a decisive pass...kind of a half-asses pass, but I never saw him again.

The second climb was up the coastal trail and fire road.  Let me tell you - this one is a bitch.  It is by far the steepest climb.  I felt a little better on this one and passed a mountain biker and one other guy, but it still felt like I was crawling.  I guess steep trails just do that to you?

Coming over the top, I passed one more dude.  I couldn't quite gauge his descending skills, so after a few steps to transition my legs from uphill to downhill mode, I took off.  I did NOT want to get repassed on a descent, so I threw caution to the wind and descended like I hated my joints.  I'm pretty sure I aged my knees at least ten years coming down the Fox trail.  It was steeper than the coastal fire road, and I let gravity do all of the work.

After a quick tour de Tennessee Valley again, I was once again heading up, this time on the Marincello trail.  The difference here was that I saw no one.  Not in front of me (ok maybe there was a shadowy figure off in the fog,) but definitely not behind me.  This probably contributed to my lack of drive up that last climb, but I just focused on being "in the moment" rather than focusing on how much more climbing I actually had to do.

Coming off the last summit, I knew it was party time.  My overly ambitious pre-race plan had me making my move right here at the top of the Rodeo Valley descent.  I was going to "spread my wings and fly" since this one is pretty mellow grade-wise.  Although I wasn't in a battle for the lead, I did follow the plan and beastmoded the descent.  My joint-crushing efforts netted me one place higher, and I could see one more guy about 50m up.  I didn't know it at the time, but that guy was 3rd in my age group.

I tried hard, but I couldn't catch that dude towards the end.  It was an uphill finish, and I had no more fight left in these old stumps.  Finishing four seconds back from a bunch of free North Face stuff kind of sucks a little, but I hit my goal time of sub-1:35 (finish time was 1:34:43.)  I can't control the competition, but I can control my own race.  9th overall and 4th in my age group is definitely something I can be proud of.

The best thing about this race?  I can finally shave this awful beard off my face!  For those of you who had the (dis)pleasure of seeing me during Movember, I grew the worst excuse for a beard in tribute to trail runners everywhere (much greater men than I.)  I'm happy to say that on Dec. 7th, I am once again cleanly shaved.


Pro race pics (there are some cool ones here)


Monday, December 1, 2014

Silicon Valley Turkey Trot - My return to racing

After the Tahoe situation this year, I was kind of a mess.  The weeks following the race were tough in all sorts of ways - physically, personally, emotionally, etc.  I mentally disconnected from racing and decided to get back to my roots: Running.  After riding my bike for nearly 6000 miles in nine months (~340 hours) and swimming more than I can remember, the last thing I wanted to do was look at my bike or a black line.  Running felt good, so I was going to just roll with it as long as I could.  I didn't have any races in mind, but running 50-60 miles a week was what my body wanted to do.  I wasn't about to argue!

Around the same time, I started working with a coach.  At first I was very reluctant to being coached, but David seemed insistent that I could be a much better runner than what my numbers were showing.  Having not being coached for over ten years, it took a bit of convincing before I let anyone control my time.  But as it turns out, David is a pretty cool dude who is even more excited about my running than I am!  THAT is the type of person I want coaching me!  Link to his website:

So after working together for four weeks, it was time to benchmark our progress.  I had a huge confidence-boosting 10 mile run in 59:50, but racing is different than training.  We decided a casual turkey trot would be a good place to start, so I decided on the Silicon Valley Turkey Trot in San Jose.

Normally I wouldn't write a blog post about a 5k, but this one is special.  After everything that's happened, I was finally EXCITED to race again!

Race morning was pretty relaxed.  Sam and I headed to the race around 6:50am.  My race didn't start until 8:30, but hers went off at 7:50.  We found parking at the SAP Center (where the Sharks play) very easily.  From there it was just a few blocks to the start down Market Street.  With so many people at this race, I was absolutely amazed at how chill everything was.  Bathroom lines were short.  Crowds were small.  So awesome.

After Sam went off, I had a few minutes to myself.  This was very important.  David and I talked about a proper warmup, and I executed that.  As soon as I took my warm clothes off and changed into my race shoes, I felt like I was floating on air.  This brought a huge smile to my face, and I knew it was going to be a good day!  I pushed to the front and started the race with my toes on the starting line - a rare occurrence with ~12000 people racing the 5k.
Striking an epic pose at the starting line.

The gun went off, and there was a mad dash for position.  I got caught up in that for a brief moment, but I remembered that David said to let the high school kids blow out the first mile.  I backed off slightly to avoid the same fate.  And as expected, as soon as we hit the first mile marker, I immediately passed three to four people.

David cautioned that mile two would be the toughest of the race, but it was only the beginning.  Soon after the 1mi mark, we hit the last wave of the 10k: The Walkers.  It was like weaving through a mine field.  There was a small  group of us weaving together, and thankfully I wasn't at the front.  I just had to follow along.  Occasionally we would split up, but we'd always converge back to the best line or the widest openings in the crowd.
Doing a good job of hiding the pain.

For me, mile three was the most brutal.  The deep hurt didn't settle in until mile 2.5.  I was honestly surprised it took that long, but struggling to breath AND weaving around people pushing baby walkers was hard.  Towards the last quarter mile, the 5k'ers and 10k'ers split.  We'd make a left towards the finish, and they'd make a right towards the second half of their race.  This was a godsend.  The weaving ended, but the hurt was still there.  Thankfully 5k's are pretty darn short.  I didn't have much of a kick, but I was able to hold off two of the dudes I was with for most of the race.

For my official time, I managed a 16:45 (5:24/mi.)  2nd in M25-29 and 12th overall out of ~12k.  Those are results I'm happy with.  This was such a massive PR.  In high school, I never even broke 18min for three miles, so to come this far is huge for me.  David deserves quite a bit of credit here.  He's the one who molded this lump of clay into something that could run a reasonable 5k.

Sam kicked some major ass too.  She PR'd both her 5k (19:46) AND 10k (42:04) times.  Mega kudos for that!
Barely broke a sweat!

Next up is the North Face Endurance half marathon on Dec 7th.