Sunday, June 29, 2008

Making new friends and the return of an old enemy!

Sunday I met with a trail running group, the Trail Runners Club. The instructions for newbies was to meet at a local High School and then convoy to the trail head. So I met with Stan, the club's founder, and a few others at the early hour of 6am, from there we drove to the trailhead at Westridge. The run was explained to as a out’n’back with a small loop at the end and was to be 13 miles. I recognized Billy from his blog LARunner and we shook hands. After a short brief and a round of hellos to Kenna a fellow newbie and myself we set off up the fireroad, Kenna, Billy and I found a comfortable pace and we chatted our way to the retired Nike missile site, a throw back to the cold-war, at the junction of Dirt Mullholland (DM) stopping for a photo en route (stolen from Billy's blog). Here we followed the flour arrows that were our trail markers along DM again at a comfortable pace and enjoying each others company.

The trail ducked down into a single track and contoured its way along the side of the hill, at one point we came across and abandoned, somewhat of an understatement, VW dune bug, how long it had been there was a good question, how it got there in the first place would be a better one?! We meandered along the trail which broke out onto a set of rollers and then down a steep section that seemed to drop off into nowhere, we stood for a while scratching our heads and chatting to a couple of hikers who didn’t know where or if the trail continued to, Billy braved it going down to see if a trail could be found, we were then joined by two other club runners who said that there was no way this could be right and so we about faced and started back up. We had covered around six miles so as a turnaround it was a good half way point.

We made our way back up to DM and headed back to the Westridge trail; around mile 9 I felt the unwelcome return of an old friend Mr I.T. Band! Slowly niggling it way around my left knee and becoming quite pronounced on the uphill sections. I fell behind the group and walked up the ups, running on the flats and downs. I got back to the car park and enjoyed the table of goodies that had been provided by Jes, thankyou! Members supply the replen on a voluntary basis; I love the idea of rotating the goodies through members; it creates a real sense of club. After chatting to a few members I was surprised to find out that Stan was one of the co-authors of the 50 Trail Runs in Southern California, this is a great book and I have a well thumbed copy on my bookshelf at home.

It’s more annoying than surprising that it the ITB issue has returned, and while the last month or so has seen little mileage of any substance except on my bike. It is, excuse the pun or is it a mixed metaphor; my Achilles heel, and is something that I will need to factor in as I start up the next training cycle next month. I seem to have got the work thing under control and despite the fact that I am walking out in the morning at 6:15am and walking back in at 7pm, there is some training time to be had and I’ll be starting up again in the next few weeks working towards Twin Peaks in December.

Running with a group is a whole new experience for me and I have to say it makes a great change, while I have covered hundreds if not thousands of miles with my iPod in recent years, there is something to be said for sharing the trails with kindred spirits and good company. I’ll definitely be back for more next weekend. Right now I am off to give my foam roller a nice big hug.

Here’s the Forerunner data and photos can be found here.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Cornered in the School Yard!

This is a reply to an open tag that has appeared on multiple blogs I read so here’s my two cents.

How would you describe your running 10 years ago?
Hmm let me think. Ten years ago I was living in London, working in HR/Recruitment and serving as a Sergeant in the Territorial Army (think US National Guard) my running pretty much was composed of maintaining a passing level of the BFT; Basic Fitness Test, this comprised of three miles and was age graded, the first half was, from memory, was fifteen minutes (10 minute pace) and was completed as a squad the second half was individual effort and I was given 10.5 minutes (6:59 minute pace). This was all completed wearing running clothes; vest shorts and running shoes and was on the road. Because everyone know that when you heading off into battle you’ll going to don you nicest matching Asics kit this test was changed to the CFT; Combat Fitness Test, three miles, a 56lb Bergen and your personal weapon and in boots. The whole thing was completed as a squad, the route was shifted to a tank trail, think mud, more mud 12-24” deep puddles, mud, more puddles, did I mention mud and you had an hour to finish it.

What is your best and worst run/race experience?
I have actually had some pretty good race experiences; my personal best half marathon at the Santa Barbara Wine Country half last May was a great run, finishing my first marathon, my first 50k and then my first 50 miler all hold special places but probably the best runs are the ones where I have a whole morning to run around the trails “out back” behind my house and for that I have my understanding wife to thank. As for the worst; getting stuck with a knee injury 10 miles from home kinda sucked, getting soaking wet in Wales wasn’t so great and overheating while on a 20 miler wasn’t much fun either but you know they may have been bad runs but there’s always a lesson to be learned and that counts for something in itself.

Why do you run?
Because golf is too damn hard! To find the limit. To see Mother Nature in all her finery. To see what’s on the other side of the horizon. To set a healthy example to my boys.

What is the best or worst piece of advice you've been given about running?
A couple of pearls of wisdom; never make decision on an uphill! If you want to run fast; train fast, a modified military one; train hard: race easy and finally sunscreen! As for bad advice; hmm a couple of bad shoes salesmen who nearly killed my feet, running is bad for you knees (a perennial favorite) and run through pain; you can run through discomfort but pain, real pain should be listened to.

Tell us something surprising about yourself that not many people would know.
Dang, there’s really not much left…hmm let me think. I am a qualified riding (horse) instructor, in a previous life I trained and competed as a show jumper in Holland and the Low Countries.

So if you’ve just read through this and have a blog and haven’t partaken consider yourself tagged.

PS for those of you who follow such things, this year's, (this weekend's in fact) Western States has been canceled due to wildfires that are raging through Northern California, thousands of lightening strikes during the month of June on the backend of one of the driest winters on record have left many areas in tinderbox conditions. While I even cannot begin to emphathize with runners who have trained and been selected for the race my thoughts go out to the firefighters on the line working hard to save people and property.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

It's getting hot in here... take off to the coast.

Southern California has been experiencing a little heat wave for the past week, temperatures have been in the triple digits for most of the last week with the high on out front patio topping out at 114 degrees, great practice conditions for Badwater but that’s about it. Sunday I threw the bike rack on the car and headed west to the coastal road, it was already 84 at 6:30 in the morning when I left and I didn’t fancy the slog through the canyons in the heat. A nice ride on the rollers up and down Pacific Coast Highway would make for a pleasant Sunday morning, plus I wanted to try out some new aerobars that I fitted during the week.

It was an uneventful ride, three hours of saddle time and a fraction of a mile under 50 miles. The aerobars took a little getting used to and there was a definite wobble the first few times I settled into them, there’s a noticeable aerodynamic improvement but I think I’ll need to adjust my saddle, I am having a little tissue-issue (gezundheit) around the three to four hour mark and while the Selle SLC and company looks tempting weightwise, I think there is a lot to be said for comfort and I may even try the ISM Adamo saddle as recommended by Wes perhaps a trip to my LBS for a fitting would be a good course of action, input from cyclists welcome here.

The weather is forecast to cool down over this week and should lead to a nice weekend, thanks to Burger I am going to head over to LA's westside and see how the Trail Runners Club does it.

Pictures can be found here and here’s the Forerunner data:

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Ich bin ein Flatlander!

The plan was simple, albeit changed slightly from the original. My Whitney climbing partner had tweaked his knee while reffing a football (not soccer) game and had decided to sit out the weekends hike up San Gorgonio. With that in mind I changed the destination to Mount Baldy.

A slightly later than planned start, an hour in the car, $5.00 for the Park parking permit, three laps around Manker Flats Campground parking at around 6100’ before finding a spot and I was set. The first part of the trail was actually a road which led up to a somewhat dryish waterfall and then switchbacked up on a fireroad. A quarter mile later and a sharp left turn and I followed the singletrack path. I signed in the trail book and headed up into the tree line. The trail, was ominously called “Ski Hut Trail”, good for going down, and, well, not so for going up.

I had set off with my Forerunner on but the path was so steep that the autostop/start was chirping so much it sounded like an over-cheerful budgie! A steady pace and several hours later and I arrived at the “ski hut” having climbed 2000’ vertical feet. There were multiple groups of hikers enjoying the views and having a well earned rest. After a short break for lunch, (Cliff bar and gel) I set of the second half which would take me up to the summit at 10,064. Like most things in life it proved to be an event of two halves. The second half started well but it wasn’t long before I started to feel the effects of both the heat and altitude. This photo was taken about 15 minutes into the second half. There was a little shade afforded from the trees but not as much as I would have liked. While taking a rest on a rather inviting log I asked a descending hiker what lay ahead, he advised that the ridgeline to the summit was about 40 minutes away and then the summit was another 30 or so after that. To put this into perspective this trail is, according to the book, 8.4 miles, I was traveling at around one, yes one mile per hour! I pushed on and the higher I got the slower I got.

After spending 40 minutes or so getting to the top of a particularly steep section, having promised myself a rest when I got there, I found the least uncomfortable spot and unceremoniously plonked myself down, another group sat nearby in a choice shady spot got up and set off and I overheard the comment that there was another 600 feet, a half mile, about half an hour to the top. You can see in the photo how close I was. I rested a little while longer and looked at my watch; 1:30, I made the decision to give myself till 2pm before turning around, whether I was at the top or not. The next time I looked at my watch it was 1:35 and I had moved roughly steps. At this point for the second weekend in a row discretion was the better part of valor, I about faced a started walking downhill.

Physiologically the effect of altitude is hard to describe, my wife, who suffered from it when we hiked the Inca Trail (13,828) describes it as being 120 years old; you have a complete lack of mobility, your muscles feel fine, you’re not that short of breath, you just are unable to move, I had it mildly while climbing Mt Kinabalu (13,438’) and would say that that is a pretty fair description, throw into the mix, nausea and giddiness and, well, I had two out of three. My stomach had been feeling a little queasy and within two minutes of my turnaround decided that the contents were no longer content with containment, this was again repeated several times during the next 30 minutes, I can report that the rumors are true and you feel a million times better afterwards.

I slowly and steadily (emphasis on the slow and not on the steady) made my way back down. I was not feeling hungry or thirsty and had been consuming gels and Perpetuem along the way as well as water from my CamelBak, the problem now was that having been in the sun so long both were warm, refreshing; I don't think so! I recrossed a couple of small streams and took the opportunity to cool myself down in the ice cold water. At this point I started fixating on ice pops, the thought of the cold fruit flavored ice melting in my mouth was becoming almost an obsession; I have no idea where it came from but it was driving me nuts. Every so often I would rest and I reminded myself of a line from the film The Runner where David Horton says something like “it’s no good sitting down, you’re not going to die and you’ve got to get to the end”. Finally after just under two and half hours I was back at the car, after phoning home to confirm I was on my way, a look at the temperature gauge revealed that it was a toasty 92 degrees! A short car ride to the nearest store satisfied my ice pop lust and two hours later I was back home. The effects of the altitude having been left on the mountain, literally!

So with this in mind I have canceled, well delayed, my Whitney trip, I have no desire to repeat this experience, put the responsibility for my safety in the hands of anyone else and do it all when I am over 300 miles from home. Both Baldy and Whitney will be around for a while yet so I will be back have another go having put in some lower level work first.

There is a old joke which asks; how do you make a Swiss Roll – you push him off the top of a mountain. Continuing the gastronomy theme there is a joke in there somewhere about tossing my cookies on the mountain, but it’s late and I can’t quite piece it together, but you see where I am going…right?

As mentioned there is no Forerunner data but you can check out the pictures here.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Valley Crest Half Marathon

Six exits on the freeway, that was all the distance I needed to drive to get to the Valley Crest Half Marathon, an entry blank and a clickety click on I am was in. My number arrived in the mail three days later and I was set. Come Sunday morning I set out a little after 7am, I drove the short distance one eye on the road the other on the sun breaking through the clouds, a sign of things to come.

Fifteen minutes later I was there. I parked up not too far from registration and went through my stretching routine, I wandered up to collect my Tshirt and listen to the usual safety brief. The race followed the shape of a “T” up from the bottom, to the right and back, to the left and back and then back down to the bottom. The route follows Mullholland Highway a dirt fireroad that winds its way along the spine of several hills within the Santa Monica range, the trail itself is nothing too technical although there are a few sections that are quite shaley and that can make for hard going.

The start was scheduled for 8am and it was around ten past by the time we set off. The trail took a short sharp uphill for the first half mile climbing two hundred feet; this was followed by a descent over the next three mile of 575’. Given the nature of the route every vertical foot lost was a foot to be made up on the return and this was to set the pattern of things to come. At the three and half mile mark there was a turnaround and I started on the second uphill (the return) to the six and half mile mark. My splits, while nothing remarkable were pretty consistent with the terrain: M1: 8:40 M2: 7:52 M3 7:54 M4 9:06 M5 9:39 and M6 9:50. Halfway through mile 7 another uphill and short down to the second turnaround at the 10 mile mark. I was feeling the heat and this is reflected in my splits M7 10:32 M8 10:11 and M9 12:36,

By this stage the sun was and up and bright, at the second aid station I filled up handhelds with ice and took the opportunity to throw some ice water over myself in an attempt to cool down. The short up lasted a mile and then the trail took another turn downhill for the next two and half miles to the last climb and then the final downhill to the finish. I picked up my pace and enjoyed the gentle cruise downhill M10 9:45 M11 9:48 and a surprisingly quick M12 7:33 it was with half a mile to go that the sun took it’s toll and I felt a cold chill wash over me, tingling in both arms and a numbness in my hands, with discretion being the better part of valor I eased off the pace completely and walked the last mile or so in an attempt to cool down and regain some composure, I have had sunstroke before and although this was not the same it was close. The last mile was covered in a painful 12:33 and the final point one in a minute and change.

I had started the day with the goals of going sub 2:00 and after the first few miles the thought of 1:50 fleetingly crossed my mind, but despite a solid first half my disappointing second half and “fun in the sun” resulted in my finishing time of 2:09:45 (113th/283) a new trail PR even though it wasn't the best of races.

After going through the chute I was handed my medal and went through to pick up some more fluids and cool down. There was the usual melee of runners decompressing and hanging out. I wandered back to my car and stretched again, it was then that I noticed my arms were covered in little blisters, which I assume was from the sun. They have since gone and my arms are now a lovely mess of peeling skin, I did get a little burnt the previous week so I don’t think that the burn was from this race and I had applied some sun screen beforehand but there was clearly something going on from the sun and heat.

On reflection and from my experience in the sun it only goes to reinforce my decision to defer my next 50 miler until the winter (read cooler) months, and after a quick email chat with the RD of Twin Peaks I snagged one of the last five spots for the race in December, it’s actually a deferred event from the beginning of the year due to the forest fires and so it is also being run in February. Without going into too much planning at this stage I now have in my mind a repeat of last winter with PCTR’s Pt Mugu and Calico Ghost Town 50Ks in November and January and the Xterra SoCal series which will start up again in the fall, I'll need to find an October Marathon or will just put in the time on the training runs. As you can see there are plenty of options to work through but hey variety is the spice of life, right!

There are some picture but Blogger is being funky and loading everything sideways! Anyway you can see them here, including the blisters, and here’s the MotionBased data.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Life Happens!

A light week for posts but a monster week for work, well that’s what a new job will do! Suddenly my commute has gone from, oh a casual walk of 30’ across our lounge to up to and hour and a half and 38 miles one way; that’s LA traffic for you! Add in the mix solid 9 or 10 hour day and suddenly your day is rapidly disappearing. What does this mean in the long term, well pragmatically what it does mean is that I need to refocus and rebalance things and that means that something needs to give and that has to be my second training cycle of this year. Additionally throw in the mix that my wife has passed me her climbing pass for Mt Whitney; she’s been sick and doesn’t feel up to tackling the altitude (14,505') and after the last weekend’s fun in the sun (not!) at the Valley Crest Half Marathon, more on that to follow, the revised plan is to delay things by two or three months (probably three) and miss the heat of summer July, August and September, get to grips with the new job and refocus on a winter 50 miler.

A quick look on the internet uncovered that there are several 50 milers that I can tackle in the cooler winter months; Twin Peaks in Orange County or Catalina Island’s Avalon 50. During the summer months I can throw in a couple of century bike rides and bag a few half marathons and training trail runs while keeping the wheels turning with some running in the evenings etc and move up to 50k during the fall. As for climbing Mount Whitney that’s scheduled for three weeks, to that end this weekend I am off to Palm Springs to tackle San Gorgonio (11,499’) this weekend…that should be fun, I was told this week that it is still snowcapped...pass the crampons!

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Ojai Valley Century Ride

I had only registered two days earlier for the ride, apparently bike rides don’t fill up like running races, although there were 700 riders this year a 75% increase over last year people were still registering on the day.

Despite my earlier ruminations about what distance to ride (62 miles vs. 100 miles) I had emailed the Race Director and had been told there were a couple of bail out points in the second 50 miles should I need to take them, with that in mind I strapped on my boots and jumped in feet first: 100 miles!

It was to be another late night and another early start, you would think by now that I would have figured out how to get all my crap together before I head out the next morning, still this was my first organized bike ride and that’s my excuse. I finally got to bed around 1:00am and set the alarm for 5:00am. I actually woke before the alarm and so I had a couple of minutes in the bank. A quick shower, 3 Wheetabix and the same number of Race Caps and I was in the car, I had packed everything into the car the night before and only had to mount my bike on the rack; I couldn’t close the garage door with it mounted. On the road I finished off breakfast; a bagel pb&j and a cup of coffee.

Ojai is about 55 miles drive north east of my house, as I left the San Fernando Valley and headed further north the weather started to close in and the temperature got noticably colder, the hills were covered in cloud and started to wonder what the day held weather wise. I had given myself 75 minutes to get there. I needed all of it as I pulled into the town, a morass of cars with bike-racks faced me, we nudged and budged our way through and finally I found a parking space no too far from registration and wandered across to pick up my number. It was somewhat disorganized and there was the usual mix of widows and orphans (metaphorically; the spouse of the runner or in this case cyclist) running the registration. This is only the fifth year of the race and they are obviously still ironing out the details. After some discussion I got my number, photo coupon, helmet sticker, t-shirt and raffle tickets and headed back to my car. I had hoped to leave with the 7am wave but by now it was 7:10am. I unloaded my bike stuffed all my bits and pieces into the pockets on my shirt; gels, chapstick, jiffy bags with powdered sports drink, sun cream, Hammer bars and a few other bits, put on my vest and armwarmers, stuck the sticker on my helmet and headed back to the Start/finish area.

I didn’t really know what to expect, it was very low key and jovial, it was a fun ride rather than a race. I had missed most of the safety brief but caught the tail end “don’t run red lights, stop at stop signs and have fun” (the application of these rules resulted in; happened, kinda happened, happened) shortly followed by “the metric century (62 miles) can go now if they like”, no gun, no horn like I say …very low key! I asked someone to take my photo and at a little after 7:30am I was off.

I’ll spare you a mile by mile blow and wrap it up in nice and tidy 20 mile sections.

Miles 0-20 (Time elapsed 1:23:55)
The first few miles took us through a series of winding residential streets in the backend of Ojai, plenty of stopped signs, most of which were rolled through; hey that’s hard earned momentum you want me to just give up! We finally broke out into the countryside around mile 6 and were treated to some great rolling roads, this is a real contrast to where I live where it'e pretty much either up or down. I was trying to focus on keeping my cadence up; talking the strain/pressure of my knees and I had set a goal of maintaining an average speed of 15mph for the course of the ride. I had no real idea if this would work as this was a new route and a much bigger distance than I head ever ridden before. The first and biggest hill came around mile 11.5 and we climbed for two miles and about 600’ I remember thinking if this was the biggest hill I could be in good shape assuming I didn’t blow up over the mileage. A quick stop at he top to enjoy the view over Lake Casitas and a photog moment and I was off. This picture is actually from the rides website, the one with me in it has the hazy sun shining over my shoulder and is covered in low cloud. Of course the joy of the bike is that after any climb there is a descent and this one with the exception of a few little ups took us down for the best part of 10 miles.

Miles 21-40 (Time elapsed 2:40:25)
Just after mile 20 there was an aid stop; potta potties, food and fluid were available and I availed myself of the latter two. It was only a quick stop (stopping for a grand total of 35 seconds!) I was soon back in the saddle pushing further North into Santa Barbara. Here the 62 milers and the 100/200 milers spilt (yes there was a 200 mile ride as well!), I followed the 100 mile arrows and was directed onto a nice loop around the orchards and farm land of Santa Barbara and Capenteria, there was a fair amount of winding paths and I nearly missed a turning onto a bike path. During the ride I was trying to pay close attention to other peoples handling skills and mimic them, I not the most confident downhiller, (I was really burned by a tandem that flew past me, in the early hills section, while I was traveling at 35mph) as I typically ride alone I have never had the luxury of being able to draft someone and on this bike path I was riding close to a girl on a Tri bike, I tucked in behind her and was amazed at the difference it made, I was literally able to coast while she cut through the air in front on me! This section lasted a good 10 miles or so and when we exited back onto the road I was willing to pick up the reins and let her enjoy my wind blocking but she declined to follow and so I headed back into the previous aid station for a quick stop.

Miles 41-60 (Time elapsed 4:00:00)
This stop was the reverse entry of the 20 mile station and this time I opted for a potta pottie break, there was the compulsory line so I waited my turn stripping off and packing away my wind vest and arm warmers. From this stop I wound my way back the way I had come, threading through lush farmland with the spine of the mountains reaching into the sky like the backbone of a stegosaurus on my left and wafts or salty water from the ocean to my right. We were unceremoniously dumped onto the bike path that ran alongside the freeway and for 20 miles we followed the 101 south finally exiting up a ramp and tooling round a semi residential area. I rounded a corner and I was at the third aid station, there were bikes everywhere and there was a huge line for make-it-yourself sandwiches, clearly this was the fun element to the ride. I had been pretty self sufficient up until this point; Endurolytes, a gel each hour, an Anti-Fatigue and Energy Surge tab each hour and to be honest the thought and large sandwich was really not appealing so I refilled my bottles (Perpetuem/Amino-Vital) and grabbed some chips and once again headed out.

Miles 61-to finish (Time elapsed 6:36:02)
The next four miles had us tooling around the backstreets that ran parallel to the beach and the railroad, there was a lot of stop’n’go traffic; lights, stop signs etc, the road was pretty crappy and by now my backside was forming an opinion over my choice of distance, we finally exited onto a smooth section of tarmac and started to pickup speed when then was a twang and my front wheel went wobbly! I pulled over expecting to see a rapidly flattening tire and to my amazement I had broken a spoke. Now I understand that this happens a lot but in the 30+ years I have been riding bikes I have never broken a spoke. Of course the tension on the rim was being thrown off and it was rubbing on the brakes as it would if it were buckled, I opened up the brakes and let it spin freer, not wanting to tempt fate I thought best course of action was to head back to the aid station as there was a mechanic stop there as well, I pootled back at low speed anxious not to do any real damage. I pulled back into the aid station and heading for the mechs. They looked at it and said they could fix it with a temporary spoke, I had never heard of this but it is basically a Kevlar thread that you connect through hub to rim as per a normal spoke and tighten and it serves as a “get you home in an emergency” fix. Fortyfive minutes and $20 later I was back on the road.

The mechs said that the prudent course of action would be to head back to the finish using the metric century route and that it was about another 12 miles. By this time I had lost too much time to finish off the remaining 40 miles which conservatively would have taken me another two and a half hours. So I picked up the shorter route and headed up the bike path that ran parallel to 150 highway back into the centre of Ojai, stopping to grab another picture along the way by the river (note the stock pose!). I cruised through the finish line in, according to my Forerunner, 6:36:02, I had covered 82.25 miles, I had a total stopping time of 1:04; most of it while having my wheel fixed. I had a maximum speed of 36.7mph, climbed 6031’ and burned a staggering 7199 calories, personally I am amazed at this as my consumption had conservatively been 250-350 an hour, and although I was tired I felt pretty good and nowhere near bonking as I had the previous week with half the mileage.

Once in the finish area I made sure to stretch, chugged a protein shake and took eight Recover-Ease tablets, I discovered these on; they were offer free samples and I am never someone to turn down something free. In fact as I write this the next day, I do not have an ache in body, not one! I searched through some of the photos that had been taken but there were none of me and then waited for the raffle where I won, woot, a Cateye Astrale 8 cycling computer, ironically I have one fitted on my bike but it’ll work on my mountain bike. After this I packed up and set off for home.

Looking back a day later, I had such a blast, other than the broken spoke, the ride was just so much fun, seeing some new parts of the world and meeting some interesting people, I’ll definitely be back for another one later in the year.

The rest of my photos are here, as mentioned there were some photographers on the course but they are still being uploaded.

Here's the MotionBased data: