Saturday, April 25, 2015

2015 Leona Divide 50 race report

Last Saturday I ran the Leona Divide 50 miler, held on a beautiful course on the PCT  in the northwest corner of the Angeles National Forest.  My first race since fracturing my hip socket in  a freak fall on downhill single track last  May 2014, I finished in 9:25, running comfortably with no hip pain.  I can't express how grateful I am to have been able to start this race and run solid, given  that accident and the surgery needed to screw me back together.

After my surgery,  I'd been non-weight bearing for 7 weeks;  starting to walk again in late July I'd begun a physical therapy regimen to restore flexibility and strength in the injured leg.  After 6 weeks of PT and walking I'd been cleared to start running on  a limited basis;  all through the fall I'd walked and maintained my PT regimen to rehabilitate the hamstrings and glutes, injured by the accident and the surgery required to repair the fracture, as well as to restore lost muscle mass in the quads and calf on the injured leg.  I started training in earnest in late December and  had very gradually ramped up my mileage;  to my surprise I had found myself running faster this season, probably by virtue of improved core strength from all the PT and core exercises.  Heading into  taper week I got a final checkup by my orthopedic surgeon and he gave me the green light:  I was fit and ready-- but a little nervous!  Had I prepared enough to handle 50 miles on the fracture?

...And so the weekend prior to the race I'd run a bit hard, thinking to top off my mileage and tune up my downhill single track running, which had continued to scare me a bit since the accident.    Starting with an easy  14 mile run/walk on Saturday to work out the knots in a tender calf, on Sunday I'd run a hard 24.5 miler up Wilson in 4:07;  the last section down steep technical on the Sam Merrell trail which I forced myself to run at full blast.  Then, as a final touch on  Tuesday I did a tough hip and glute circuit for a final tune up of my hip stabilizing muscles  before the race.

With all this "tuning up" I found myself on Friday at the bib pickup a bit  sore.  Meeting up with my friends Dale and Tina, who was running her first 50k race,  we headed out for Mexican food where I ordered a carne asada for a last bit of muscle repairing protein.  Dale just shook his head, smiling with a chuckle.  I made sure to eat a large number of corn chips in observance of the CW on carbo loading.  After a pleasant, salt-laden meal, we got to our  hotel in Palmdale for our gear set up slumber party -- Tina and I getting our gear ready,  with Dale, who would be crewing Tina, helping out.  We entertained ourselves by  telling Tina wonderful stories about ultra strategy,   hyponatremia, rhabdomyolysis, heat exhaustion .... assuring her how much fun tomorrow would be!  Being rather saner than either Dale or I she took it all in stride and had her gear all ready while I was still figuring our how to pin my bib onto my pants.

We all woke before our 4am alarms;  Dale got us coffee  and we hit the road, arriving at the start around 5:30am.  It was clear and chilly in the predawn dark; I left  a drop bag for the mile 26 aid station and finally it was time to run.  Better trained at this point in the season than I'd been for the last two years, and having woken feeling good, I headed out a bit more aggressively than usual.  In short order we'd run up the fire road to Spunky Edison aid station (mile 2.6) and  hit  the PCT single track heading east.  Hitting  the Bouquet Canyon aid station (mile 8.6), in 1:20, I was 9 minutes ahead of last year's pace and feeling OK but starting to feel that knot in my left calf.  I made steady progress up the 3 mile climb to the top of the next ridge, and then began the 6 miles down towards Agua Dolce at a fast clip. Reaching  Agua Dolce, mile 17.9, in 2:53, I was now 14 minutes ahead of my 2014 split there;  but the down hill had taken a toll on that calf which had become decidedly tender.  I sat and  jammed my thumbs deep into the knot in my calf to try to release it, and washed down a calcium carbonate chew.  Walking up the steep section of fire road before returning to the runnable single track, I began the long 6 mile climb back to the ridge top, and thankfully the calf was feeling good.  At last I crested the ridge.   Reminding myself to focus,  I  dropped in down the west side into the scary steep downhill toboggan run leading back to Bouquet Canyon.    Reaching the aid station, mile 26.6, in 4:37 with some relief,  I was still 13 minutes ahead of last year's pace despite taking the downhill single track a bit  more tentatively than last year --having learned the hard way that bones can break with a fast downhill single track spill.

By this point it was warm and  incredibly dry; quite unlike last year, when we had begun the race amid snow flurries.  I was starting get salt encrusted.   I zipped off the legs from my zip pants and my friend Marco, who was working the Ultra Medical Team station at Bouquet, helped me with my drop bag.  I drank  an Ensure and Marco got me ice for my bandana.  Thus refreshed I headed out for the last major climb of the race out of Bouquet Canyon,  reaching Spunky Edison (mile 32.6) in 5:50, now just 6 minutes ahead of last year.  I was really starting the feel the heat and stayed a bit long in the aid station to fully hydrate and wet my head and back.  Carrying two full bottles, I started out on the 7 mile desert stretch to San Francisquito Road.  Initially I felt great and was gaining speed, but with 2 miles left to go, I was completely dry, bottles empty, and feeling the dust -- feeling sore in my chest with  a dry  cough.  I pressed on and with great joy saw that my wife and kids had driven up to see me at the aid station;  I arrived dead-on my 2014 40 mile split.
Looking like a salt rimmed margarita glass...
My oldest son-  Thanks!

The best crew ever!

My son and the aid station crew filled my bottles and I drank down a bunch of coke and two bottles of electrolyte drink and water.  I was hurting but extremely  moved to have my family there with me.  Having spent about  15 minutes at the checkpoint rehydrating I was feeling better.  Warning my wife that it might be a slow death march back to the finish, I headed out, this time carrying three bottles.

Power-walking up the 300 foot climb out of the aid station, it was with relief that  I found I was able to run once the trail leveled out.  Looking back on that  run back to Spunky Edison, it had an epic desert feel and I recall  running  through dust devils -  moving well despite the irrelevant discomfort.
Mile 45, photo by Howie Stern
I remember passing many runners  that were out-bound to San Francisquito but couldn't hail them above a whisper, my chest had gotten  so tight with the dust.  At last I hit the final aid station, topped off a bottle and headed down the fire road for the final 2.6 miles to the finish.  Rounding the corner to the finish there was my wife and kids, Dale and Tina, and many friends.  I crossed the finish, Keira put the finishers medal on me, and I hugged my wife, overcome by emotion.

Finish in 9:25, 15th place
A bit overcome with gratitude

Tina, Dale, and Geoff
Thank you Steph!

It was wonderful to visit with my friends Dale and Tina, Geoff, Nick, Zack;  and  enjoy the moment with my wife Steph and my kids.   

I finished in 9:25, 15th place;  placing better than last year,  while my time was 24 minutes slower in the tougher conditions.  I'd lost all of that time in the last 10 miles which was a good reminder for me of what can happen in these races with heat and the importance of staying on top of hydration.  Great lessons, and a terrific experience.

A wonderful weekend!

Friday, April 17, 2015

Race tomorrow!

I am packed and have double checked my packing list.  I've studied my splits from Leona Divide 50 last year and its reminded me just how far 50 miles is.

I've run or walked 1109 miles since getting off crutches last July - I am ready.  I am grateful to my family and my doctor for getting me this far.  I am very excited about tomorrow.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Mt Wilson via Echo Mtn, Mt Lowe Railway- starting to taper for Leona Divide 50

I hit the Sam Merrill trailhead at dawn to head up to Mt. Wilson for a last tune up run before starting my taper week before Leona Divide next Saturday April 18.

It was a beautiful, cool morning.  I ran relaxed up to the summit in about 2:20; then cranked back down in 1:40 totaling 24 miles.  I am pleased with the run -- for the last few weeks I have been "playing tag" with a flaky left calf.  It's had hot spots that have migrated between the soleus and the gastrocnemius; lateral to medial to center and back over the weeks.  As these hot spots have come up I have worked on them with foam rollers, a rolling stick, and for the deeper trigger points, manual massage, digging in deep with my thumbs.  I've managed to avoid injury but have been feeling right on the edge.  The run today was free of this problem-  it seems that I have worked out all the kinks.

I've been wearing compression sleeves just in case and have generally been running "defensively" to keep my pace in check so as to avoid injury.   Also I've stuck to wearing long pants, as in 2013, based partly on the thinking that keeping the calves warm is a good idea to prevent cramps/knots. (The other aspect is to be a bit more poodle-dog-bush proof).

One lesson over the last few weeks:  I have found that when these calf hot spots crop up in  a run, typically when I am feeling good and pushing the pace, stopping and applying strong finger pressure at the trigger point really helps to work them out/relax them.   I think that these knots haven't resulted in injury this year because of the continual foam rolling of my calves over the last two years improving the overall health of my muscles-  in comparison to 2013 when I was just starting foam rolling and was still plagued by the occasional calf "heart attack".

Another lesson today-  in the latter part of the run, tearing down the lower Sam Merrill trail at full blast,  it was getting warm and so I had opened the zips at my knees (I wear long zip pants on these runs).   After getting down to the bottom I found that the pant cuff on my right had slipped down over the heel of my right shoe.  I suspect this may have happened on my run last May 31, 2014, when my right foot slipped and busted my acetabulum.  The pants I had been wearing that season had pretty badly frayed cuffs particularly on the rear of the right pant leg.  I don't think I'd appreciated the potential for a problem with the long pants but now it makes sense.

My only other concern for Leona has to do with air quality.  My long runs this season have typically left me with rather sore lungs after 20+ miles, making it difficult to breath deeply in the latter stages of these runs.  The feeling is a less severe version of how I remember feeling running in these hills in the late 80's and early 90's when the smog problem was much worse than it is now.  After those runs, shallow panting was all I could manage due to the smog burn.   For now I am trying to load up on vitamin C (500mg chewable) and E (400iu) before and after these runs.  I know that both of these antioxidants are thought to confer some protection from the ozone in smog (ozone being the "active ingredient" of smog, so to speak).  Even so I experienced lung soreness  today and it does seem to correlate with the brown scum visible looking out over the LA basin from the mountains.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Mt. Wilson 28 miles

I ran up Mt Wilson via Echo Mountain and the Mt Lowe railway this morning and tacked on  a few extra miles by heading down the toll road from the top, until the GPS read 14 miles, and then backtracked up to the summit spigot for water and on down.  This is my "safe route":   Pending getting a satellite pager, I am staying away from remote single track such as Idlehour, where I fractured my leg last year.  If anything were to happen in a place like Idlehour...well, I hit the jackpot last May with a fall and fracture alone with no cell phone reception and it was a long and rather memorable hike out.

It was an awesome run today.  28 miles, 6071 ft of climb, total run time 4:48.  Amazingly this is a good 30+ minutes faster than any of my 28 mile workouts over the last three years.  I chalk this up to core strength training-  an unanticipated benefit of the fracture rehabilitation.

I ran in my new Merrell Trail Glove 3s this morning and they were sooooo comfy.

Here is the GPC track:

The run started at dawn in a marine layer but by Echo Mountain, 2.6 miles in, I had broken through the clouds:
The views were stunning heading up the Mt. Lowe railway:

On the way back, around 22 miles into the run, a bit south of the trailhead that drops off the railway bed towards Tom Sloan Saddle, the marine layer had expanded..
View to the west towards Mt Lukens

View towards Inspiration Point

Cruising past the Idlehour trail junction I soon dropped into mist for the last few mies down into Altadena.  Just beautiful.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Mt. Wilson 20 to top out a rest week

I hit the trail at 6:30am this morning for a power walk up Mt. Wilson/ run down, total time 4:06 for 19.5 miles to cap off a 55 mile week of relative rest.

I've been overdue for a power walk workout having focussed on moderate grade uphill running for the last three weeks, culminating in a fast-ish 26 miler in 4:28 last Sunday in the Verdugos.  That workout left me tight and sore, particularly  in the calves, for 2-3 days. My left calf in particular was a bit twitchy and I recognized from years past that it was time to slow down, use the foam roller and get the calf muscles sorted out.  By the end of the week the calves were feeling OK after a lot of foam rolling and deep tissue massage (self-administered) and a 10 mile uphill power walk was indicated to complete the muscle maintenance.

I started the run this morning under the  colorful bands of the dawn sky -- beautiful --  oddly enough the sky reminded me of images of Jupiter.  It was a humid, buggy walk up from Eaton Canyon Nature Center to the summit, which I completed in 2:47, a bit slow as I haven't done one of these power walks in a few weeks.   The run down was fast and everything felt solid, completing the round trip in 4:06.  

All told, 26 miles of the 55 miles total this week were walking.  It was a  needed rest to focus on muscle health.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Verdugos, 26 miles

The run plan today entailed 26 miles to round out a 60 mile week; and specifically, to  push on the uphills and see how fast I could run a 26 mile course on rolling hills.   I love running in the Verdugos because  the uphills are spread throughout any long run; unlike big runs in the front range of the San Gabriels, where the uphill is generally paid upfront with the back end of the run largely downhill, running the ridge line of the Verdugos gives a taste of extended climbs at relatively high mileage when I am feeling tired.  Great fitness training --plus the views are spectacular.

We lost an hour this morning with daylight savings, so I split the difference between physiological time and clock time, waking at 6am and getting out to the La Tuna Canyon trailhead for a predawn 7am start.  The run comprises a 3.3 mile climb to the ridge line, where I cache water; followed by a 6.2 mile largely downhill run to the west to a trailhead in Burbank; turnaround and run back uphill to the water cache; then run  largely downhill 3.5 miles to the west, turnaround and return to cache, finishing out with 3.3 miles down back to the trailhead:

I got my money's worth.  I held the same pace as on  last week's run up Mt. Wilson, completing the 26 mile course, with 5500 feet of climb,  in 4:28, much faster than comparable runs in the Verdugos last year;  but I certainly found my limits today.  I had to walk a fair bit of the last climb and felt vaguely nauseous for the final 10 miles.   My calves were sore from 7 min miles on the long downhill and by the end I was hurting.  It was warm and when I got home my weight was 150lbs;   I'd lost about 5 pounds despite having consumed about 8 pounds of fluid in the course of the run.  I think the  Spring Ultra Medical Team training I attended yesterday, which included a fascinating lecture on over hydration and its dangers,  was running in my mind!

I consumed no calories other than what is in Gu Fizz tabs during this run yet never felt hungry, so my metabolic efficiency is coming along well.

Here is are the pace and elevation charts for the run:

The GPS track and data are posted here:

Verdugos 26 mile course Mar 8, 2015

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Mt. Wilson via Echo Mountain, Mt Lowe Railway, 23.5 miles

The weather here in Pasadena has reverted back to winter this weekend, with a good rain Friday night and again last night.  It was predicted to rain this morning with the snow-line dropping to 3500 ft. So this morning I got up  early, packed a day pack with extra clothes, donned my Goretex-lined Merrell Ascend Gloves, and headed to the Lake Avenue trailhead of the Sam Merrill Trail to Echo Mountain for a 6:30am start, intending to run to Wilson summit for a 24 miler and enjoy the snow:


It was a beautiful morning!  Clear and cold, but no rain, just magnificent cloud walls over Los Angeles and the back range.  I fast hiked to Echo Mountain (2.7miles) and started running there on the traverse trail over to the Mt. Lowe railway.  I ran comfortably up to Markham saddle and took this photo looking east towards Mt Wilson and the Mt Baldy high country:

On through the Mueller tunnel and hit the Mt Wilson Road for the 2 mile run up to Wilson summit (11.75 miles, 2:25).   I was mindful of my footing as there were patches of ice on the road and it was COLD.   I picked up water at the faucet north of the summit snack bar and ran the return trip down after donning a windbreaker as my fingers had gone numb.

It was a fast run down and I felt solid the whole way;  total time was 4:06 despite the 4800 ft of climb and having walked the first 2.7 miles.   Wonderful morning!  Hip felt good as did the achilles; it felt to good to run reasonably fast.