Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Skyline To The Sea 50K

It was early into the week, possibly Monday or Tuesday, that I informed Anu that she was running the PCTR Skyline To The Sea 50K on April 26.

I am coaching her to her first 100M start, the Lean Horse 100M in Hot Springs (SD), on Aug 22.

This was my way of getting her to run when tired. To say that she was excited is an understatement.

The initial plan was for the 2 of us to drive to the Finish and take the bus up to the Start. It changed a few days before the race. Raj was going to drop us to the Start and then show up, hours later, to pick us up from Waddell Beach. I drove to their home earand transferred my race stuff to their van. We left their home around 8 a.m. (the race starts at 9 a.m.) and made it up Hwy 9 in no time at all (at least that's how it felt!). It was chilly at the top and we stayed in the warm van after picking up our bib numbers and attending to the call of Nature. The bus from the Finish had not arrived yet and the parking lot was sparsely populated.

That all changed when the bus disgorged its passengers. Very soon the lot was a hive of activity.

We talked with super triathlete Stanley Ho who was doing his first ultramarathon. Abhijit had driven him to the Start. I also bumped into familiar faces - Keith and Kay Blom, Sean Lang, Martina Koldeway, Mark Tanaka and Samanvitha Rao to name a few.

The race started on time. The first few miles were downhill on the most wonderful surface I had ever run on. The trail was idyllic - a slight fog around and the sun gently warming our skin now and then.

(coming into the first AS)

We reached the first AS after a few pit stops to answer the call of Nature again. Keith Blom and Gene Weddell were on the main road, just before the AS, to direct us along the right path.

Rick Gaston was in this AS. He took a picture of me while I was taking a picture of him. :)

We were out of here soon and began the trek to the next AS. Anu was feeling great and I took a lot of pics of her, smiling and posing along the trail. The AS was manned by Zach Landman (he had volunteerd in my Ruth ANderson race the weekend before) and his girlfriend. After spending a few minutes eating and socializing, Anu and I began the wonderful descent into the Gazos Loop AS.

The AS was a hive of activity. Runners leaving to begin the 7K loop. Most runners were exiting it to start the push to the Finish.

We soon caught up with Famida Hanif-Weddell on the longish climb. The next few miles were spent in her company. The steepest part of the climb was quite steep but not very long. We soon began the descent down the the trail we had run befor, the one that took us into the AS. The station came into view soon enough. Chakri Gullipalli, a Team Asha runner and mentor for the past 4 years, was waiting to start his run to the Finish. The 3 of us left the AS together but we soon left him behind (he had some muscle tightness and had wisely chosen to slow down).

Anu and I had the most wonderful time from here on out on the long descent. The fatigue finally hit Anu with about 6 miles to go. She never complained even once, keeping a smile on her face all through the final push.

(My finish. Thanks Keith Blom!)

She made it into the Finish 7:53 after the race had started. What a trooper! Extremely strong mentally and getting even stronger with every race finished. Way to go girl!

(Anu's finish)

Raj was waiting for us and we duly made it back to Saratoga around 6:30 p.m.

Quicksilver next up for Anu.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

American River 50

Comes a time in many an ultra race
When your reflection says "It is now time
To pull up your socks. To pick up your pace.
To give up the fight is the biggest crime."
So I looked the race Demon in the eye
And, sans hesitation, picked up the sword.
Vanquish him I would or, in trying, die.
So there they stood. His battle hardened horde.
Each one different from the other eighteen.
Sharp was my sword. Furious were my parries.
Each was relegated to a has been,
Felled while trying to fend off my flurries.
Veni. Vidi. Vici. I was Caesar.
Of one more realm I was now Emperor.

Running ultra marathons for 4 years now has taught me one thing - the human brain is an amazing creation of Nature. It is capable of the most mundane tasks and it soars when delivering the sublime!

Having spent all of Friday working, I slept nary a wink (actually dozed off for about an hour) before leaving home just after midnight to drive to Anu's place where Dan Marinsik was to park his car so that we could carpool to the race. We left Saratoga around 12:45 a.m. and hit 880N - > 680N --> 5 North. Before we knew it we were in the outskirts of Sacramento. We soon got onto 80 East and found ourselves in the Dam Overlook parking lot around 3 a.m. We tried our best to sleep a bit but all the cars driving up to park woke us up every few minutes.

It was soon time to get out of the warm car and head towards the shuttle buses. I went off to use the restroom and Dan and I got separated. I tried again to get a few winks in the bus as it made its way towards the Start but to no avail.

It was chilly in the Start area. I picked up my bib number and dropped off my Finish area drop bag. I soon found Karen Bonnett and the rest of the Acme Running Club AR50 runners. We took a few pictures before heading out towards the actual start area.

The race started on time and I soon found myself almost at the back of the pack running at a sedate pace. My stomach warned me that I would need to hit a restroom soon. Remembering that there was a restroom around the 4 or 5 mile mark, I asked it to hold its horses and not ask for attention for another 40-50 minutes.

Right around 7 a.m. I found myself in the line to use the restroom. My turn eventually came and it was blessed relief! I reckon I must have lost 10 minutes or so during that break.

Those first few miles had been spent running with Jose Gabriel and Marissa Licon. They were both trying out Vespa and were very excited about its promise.

After the much needed restroom break, I got into a nice rhythm. I eventually caught up with Shannon Farar-Griefer and Diane Vlach who were running together. I spent the next few miles chatting with them before taking off to run my own race.

The miles went by in a blur. Aid station. Eat something. Joke with the volunteers. Fill up one of the bottles with Cytomax. Thank the volunteers. Leave. Along the way I would catch up with friends or they would pass me and we would talk for a bit until we parted.

It was with a shock, 4:30 into the race, that I realized that I had not taken a single walk break until then. I promptly walked for a full 5 minutes!

Julie Fingar, the RD, had actually put a nice large sign marking the marathon point in the race. I made a mental note that the marathon went by in 4:57. Not bad for a 50M. There were still many miles, tougher ones at that, left in the race.

Beals Point is always a hive of activity and spectators in this race. This year's great weather had brought friends and family members of runners by the dozens. Nancy Warren was in the AS. She is a lovely person and I love her spirit, her cheerfulness and her caring and giving nature. I gave her a big hug and a kiss. I spent a few minutes there eating. I also emptied my shoes of dirt (I had forgotten to wear gaiters). The minute I started running again the race had changed! Both my legs were a sea of pain and tightness. They refused to help me pick up the pace. I walked most of the way to the next AS. People passed me one by one. I spent those minutes singing Indian songs loudly and taking in the lovely views of the Bay and the flowers along the trail.

The 31 mile mark came in around 6:16 into the race. If you are doing the math like I was during the race, the 4 miles from Beals Point to the 50K mark had taken me 72 minutes - 17-18 minutes a mile. The first 26.2, in contrast, had taken me around 11:20 per mile.

I ate a bit more in the AS and soon left it, resigned to a long 18 miles to the Finish. It was during this section that I asked myself if I wanted to try to go under 11:00 for the race. The answer that came back was a resounding Yes. It was like my brain had been waiting for this very signal. I started running. The legs ached no more. The brain had recruited more motor units to help me in my quest. Mile 38 is where I popped a Tylenol and filled one of my bottles with Coke. Now I really flew! I do not use that word lightly. I must have been running anywhere from 7:15 - 9:15 mins/mile pace. I took no walk breaks. I passed every person who had passed me after the levee.

I was eagerly looking forward to the last few hills. I had run up those slopes the past few years. This year was to be no different. The first of the slopes leading up from the river was soon upon me. A third of the way up, I stopped, bent over with my hands on my knees and waited for my pulse to slow. 20 seconds later I started running up again. A third of the way up I stopped in similar fashion again. I refused to walk. I finally made it up the slope and ran the rest of the way to the Last Gasp AS. I filled my bottle with Coke for the last push and headed up the slope. This year that last part felt way easier than it had in years past.

About half a mile from the finish, just before the last small but steep climb, I spotted the familiar figure of my RDL buddy, Karen Bonnett, ahead of me. I yelled out to her and soon caught up with her. We ran up the last climb together and finished hand in hand. 10:39! 30 minutes faster than in 2007.

What a race I had run! It was one of the most fun races I have ever run. The miles seemed to go by faster than they've ever done.

Kudos to Julie and her amazing band of volunteers. Thank you all for another wonderful edition of AR50.

Until next year.