Wednesday, April 27, 2011


What have I been up to lately? I did a speed workout at the track today (part of which was a disappointing 6:04 mile) and I'm getting my dissertation ready to file. I wrote two of my papers in LyX and one in Word, and I'm now converting everything to LaTeX. The next time I get a PhD I will be sure to write all my papers in straight LaTeX from the get-go, because that is how real men do it.

This past weekend I set up my replacement Henry Shires Contrail in my backyard to seam-seal it, and realized that I own 6 tents, which is probably too many. Does anyone want a well-used Sierra Designs Lightyear or an REI Roadster? Also, a size-small Gregory G-pack, OR Rocky Mountain Gaiters, size 9-11 or so Yaktrax sole inserts, and similar sized NB inserts (all unused). All free to a good home. I've got a Contrail that's been used less than a dozen times, I think it's a 2007 model. I'm selling that for $120.

Most importantly, I'm headed to San Diego on Thursday for the ADZPCTKO. I'm giving a presentation called "Alternative Routes along the PCT Corridor: Discovering new challenges from Mexico to Canada." Hopefully I will do a practice run on a small portion of the SD 100 course, and I'm riding the train home on Monday and am looking forward to it.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Home Field Advantage: Tilden 50K

I ran PCTR's inaugural Tilden 50K today. Today was the last PCTR 50K I have on my schedule for the next several months, and since there are obvious employment-based reasons that I might not live in the Bay Area next year, it might be my last for quite a while. Thus I really wanted to go all out and break five hours. I wasn't certain I'd be doing the race until this past week, since I just ran a 100-miler last weekend and a friend wanted me to go to the Grand Canyon with him, but once I signed up I was mentally ready to go all-out in my home park: Tilden.

The course started at Lake Anza and repeated a 13-14K loop three times, then finished with a 9K lollipop-shaped out and back. The plan was to run the three loops in 1:20 each and the out and back in under an hour. I ran the loop in a practice run on Thursday and my time, as best I could tell, since I ran it with a slower friend and did all sorts of stops and starts on the watch, was 1:22. Under race conditions I thought I had a good chance to pull it off.

When the race started I was first out of the gate. I knew there was a steep downhill single-track section only 15 yards or so from the start, and I didn't want to be behind anybody who wasn't bombing down it, so I went first. I was alone at the head of the pack for 10 minutes or so, then roughly 10 people passed me before the first aid station at Wildcat Canyon Road, 25 minutes in. Maybe one other person passed me the whole rest of the race.

I hit the second aid station in Steam Trains parking lot after about 52 minutes. Then began one of my favorite stretches in the whole park--bomb down to cross South Park road, climb a tiny bit, and then there's an amazing mile on Grizzly Peak Trail with pretty much the perfect almost-imperceptible downhill grade where you can really let it fly all the way to Golf Course Road. After that there's a couple of steeper downhill sections to get back to Lake Anza. This last mile and a half or so was incredibly muddy. Incredibly muddy. Probably the muddiest run I have ever done, which I think is saying a good deal. There was a river running down one long section of the course as if a water main had broken. I of coursed loved all this and bombed down it without batting an eye.

I finished my first loop in 1:16:43 shortly after noticing that 5 of the people who had passed me were headed out in a different direction, meaning they were in the 35K instead of the 50K. I had really felt like I was running as fast as I could, almost without regard to whether I could maintain it for the whole race, so I was a little bummed I hadn't banked more time than just 4 minutes. I blew through the pass-thru aid station at the start/finish and began my second loop. It felt a little slower, and I think a guy passed me at about the first aid station on this loop. I could hang with him when we were both running, but he ran up the entire giant hill, which I only did in fits and starts. Regardless, I finished the second loop in 1:25:33. The third loop felt good--there were lots of runners from the 10 or 21K races on the loop and it felt really good to pass them or use them for pacing. The third loop took 1:26:27, which, even though slower, I think I felt better about than the second loop.

At this point I had 41:16 remaining and 9K left to cover if I wanted to break five hours. Unfortunately, this including climbing up the ridiculously muddy hill I had previously enjoyed bombing down. Due to poor traction parts of it were physically impossible to run up, and after that there was a long climb to the end of the turnaround. I was pretty much spent, so when I started being able to actually run on the return, I stumbled a few times, although not seriously. There were 10 or 21K runners on this stretch again, so it was helpful to be passing some of them despite having been out much longer. I bombed down the mudslide again, and finished in 5:10:30, setting a 50K PR and finishing fifth overall, easily my best placement ever at a PCTR event, but still over the arbitrary round number of 5:00.

When I crossed the finish line I felt spent, but within a few minutes I had energy again and was cursing having not spent it during the race. I think about my inability to trick the regulator in my brain a lot. (Remember this Radiolab?) Clearly I had energy left to burn, probably enough to finish in under five hours without even dying after crossing the finish line. But now ten hours later, I've realized that I've been pretty mentally out of it, so maybe I did spend most of my energy. (I managed to lose my water bottle between the finish line and my car, and I took an empty DVD case back to the library even though I haven't watched the movie and it's not due yet.) The race was pretty difficult, with 6,127 feet of climbing. (Check out the profile.) Being on my home turf and knowing almost every inch of the course was a big help. I probably gave it my best and had a very good run.

I got muddy.

Friday, April 01, 2011

Badger Mountain

One week ago today I ran the Badger Mountain Challenge 100-mile race. I was in DC the first part of the week, then decided to take a few days of spring break to roadtrip up to Washington state with a friend. I stopped and hung out with the always-awesome Chigger, Lint, and Tomato in Portland, bought a dozen vegan Voodoo Donuts (meh) and wandered around Powell's city of books (awesome). I made an obligatory stop at the obvious waterfall on the drive east from Portland to the tri-cities area of Washington state, where the race was held.

Signing up for the race was a last-minute decision, having not known how my legs would feel after the Pirates Cove 50K, or how my body would feel after another job interview. So I wasn't able to investigate the race or do much in the way of pre-race preparation. I began to sense frustration when I showed up Thursday afternoon at the running store where race packets were supposed to be held. The packets were not there and had all been taken to the pre-race dinner across town, despite my not having RSVP'd for the dinner--the first of many website/reality inconsistencies. Arriving at the dinner, I received my race packet, but was frustrated to discover that it contained literally nothing in the way of information and was instead just race swag. Nowhere could I find directions to aid stations for crew, race directions for runners, a general description of the race for runners, or even a hint as to where the start of the race would be! After cornering the race director, I discovered that the website did indeed contain a long chronological (ie, not helpfully organized) list of race updates, one of which was a mapquest link to the race start that would not load on a variety of smart phones. I made the RD point to the race start on google maps on my friend's phone, elicited a promise from him that directions to aid stations for crew would be available at the race start, and went and got a hotel.

I arranged two drop bags, watched Duke lose (always fun), and got a good night's sleep. Positively, I met my friend from high school BH at the start line the next morning. I'd only verified that he was running the race the day before. He had originally clued me in to the existence of the Badger Mountain race, but I wasn't sure he would actually be running. Negatively, the RD failed to deliver the promised aid station directions. My crew teamed up with BH's crew and managed to overcome this obstacle without a hitch, which I greatly appreciate.

The race began at 7:00. BH and I quickly moved to the front of the pack. We were running together in positions 3 and 4. After 3 miles, there was an unmarked turn, and then shortly thereafter, an aid station. We let the 1 and 2 runners navigate the turn, and watched them hit the aid station, verifying we were on-course. They took a right out of the aid station, and we followed, blowing through the aid station without stopping, but cheered on, confirmed, and checked-in by the aid station volunteers.

And that's basically all you need to know about the race.

The course was supposed to go straight through the aid station. The clearly marked right turn was apparently for the 15K race that was being held in conjunction the next day. The markings took us through a subdivision, disappeared completely, wasted 50 minutes, and was only solved by runners with cell-phones who called their spouses and got them to ask the RD what the hell was going on. The entire field had been misled and lost varying amounts of time.

Then this scenario was repeated three more times throughout the next 24 hours. The leaders would push ahead, realize the course wasn't marked for shit, backtrack several miles, the entire race field would gather together, curse the name of the RD, call someone on their cellphone, find out what the hell was going on, and press forward.

Despite screaming at the RD (I think it went something like: "I've walked across the country four times and hiked the entire length of the Sierra cross-country, I know how to follow a f---ing trail; you need to mark your f---ing course!"), getting lost, bushwhacking, rain, and freezing temperatures, I managed to run pretty well. I covered 90 course miles (probably 95 real miles) in exactly 24 hours. I felt great physically, but I had no desire to legitimize the race by running to the finish through another poorly marked set of industrial agriculture service roads, so I bailed there at 90 miles. I'm totally cool with that. The race was an early-season warm-up for me; I got my desired work-out, and that's all I cared about. I saw a beautiful sunrise, got in the car, congratulated my friend BH on his amazing accomplishment (he ran sub-24 despite running 108+ miles), and drove home.

So that's it. Don't ever run the Badger Mountain Challenge. It was frankly the most horribly managed race I have ever encountered.

Check out my friend BH's blog. We went to high school together and have taken pretty similar paths since, hiking the AT, living abroad, and now making the outdoorsy most of econ PhD programs.