Monday, 15 November 2010

Stinson Beach 50k

Stinson Beach soon after dawn.
Yet another Pacific Coast Trail Run this weekend and it was harder than expected, as it usually is. I always sign up before the course details and elevation profile are available, so I only found out recently that the Stinson Beach 50k has a decently hilly 7,000ft of climbing (plus options of 25k and 12k showing off the course, too). But that's a good thing since the only trail running I'm getting currently is the races I turn up to, so the harder they are, the better work out I get.

I'd decided to DNS at the flat Helen Klein 50 miler the previous weekend since my calves had felt strained after the Silicon Valley Marathon on the weekend before that. Instead, I'd decided that it would be a really great idea to do lots of speed work, so I'd squeezed in a hard session (including a 5k treadmill PB) 3 times in the six days before Stinson. The fact I wasn't broken on the start line suggested that my overtraining is out my system and I can get back to business as usual.

So, at the start it looked like being a beautiful day in Marin and I'd even enjoyed the early drive over the Golden Gate Bridge, despite the fact I'd have preferred a bit more sleep. Looking around I could see several guys in sponsored kit and I'd been told that a few fast runners would be showing up, but I didn't know them by sight, so guessed I'd only find out when they shot off up the first climb. The field was certainly more talented than at an average ultra, and this was obviously influenced by the North Face Challenge 50 Mile Final being around Marin just three weeks later with a whopping $10k first prize.

However, I didn't want to get drawn into the racing given I know my uphill running is relatively weak right now, plus I wanted to keep training hard during the following week. After having such enjoyable runs at Miwok and other races in the build up to Western States, I'd imagined I could still do this type of race and feel relaxed throughout, but when you stop training on trails, that fitness does fade a bit.

So I was a bit disappointed to have to walk so much of the uphills on lap one (of two), but the legs did seem to wake up better for the second attempt on each hill. The scenery was great, as it always is around those trails and this is about the fourth race I've done in the region, all of which have been a joy to run (and tough). The next few weeks have more of the same, with the Quad Dipsea following much of the same course, then the North Face 50 and Rodeo Beach races both using combinations of the same trails networks. I think I should move to Marin...

Start line of the 50k.

Great views of Marin.

Dipsea trail steps.
The views at the top of each climb were breath-taking and I made sure I brought my camera to remember it better. It was kind of surreal to be running on a section I'd remember from the Miwok 100k, then something from a different race given that I don't have a proper map in my head of how the trails link up. But it did bring back good memories as well as creating great new ones.

I also managed to chat to a load of people during and after the race, reinforcing what a great social community ultra-running creates. When you put a load of people together to do something they love and throw in a picture-postcard back-drop, it's generally going to produce positive vibes. And the organisation was flawless as ever (I've still not managed to do one wrong turn in a PCT race).

In the end I finished second in 4h38m, so was really happy with that. It had taken more effort than I'd planned and been tougher on the uphills, in particular. But I finished uninjured with a good hill session in the legs and feeling more part of the local ultra community than when I started.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Silicon Valley Marathon

This weekend was a speed session on the relatively flat Dean Karnazes Silicon Valley Marathon through San Jose to Los Gatos and back. I'd hoped to really race this but the lack of training due to the (hopefully gone for good) overtraining syndrome meant I just wanted a decent training run at high effort.

Then I got man 'flu during the week and a crick in my neck, so I wasn't sure it'd even be sensible to start. By race day I was barely sniffling with not much of a cough and I had most of the movement back in my neck, so I thought I'd be ok to run.

It started downtown before dawn and the conditions were just about perfect, not being too hot and no rain or wind. And since the half marathon version is run at the same time, it made it difficult to tell who was in what race. Luckily I had Amy to crew for me and she was able to tell me who was ahead.

The last few years the winner hadn't broken 2:40 so I wanted to aim for that and be able to train in the following week. However, within a couple of miles there was a marathoner zooming off too fast for me. He looked like he was heading for around 2:30 and there was no point in trying to hang with that pace. At half way he was four minutes ahead and I was dead on 6 minute miling in 1:18:30, so I was right to let him go.

The miles to half way were uphill, but not too steeply, so coming back and heading towards San Jose again would be a net downhill, although only of 250ft. A hardish 20 mile run seemed like a good idea, then a cruise back to the finish for the last 10k. So at 20 miles I took it easy, yet found I was still keeping up around a 6:20/mile pace, which felt very positive.

However, my plan of taking it easy to the finish changed when I saw 3rd behind me with two miles to go. I reasoned that I might as well hold on to 2nd after 24 miles of decent effort, so I sped up and raced in the last section at full speed. At least I had another gear to shift into, and I felt like I'd not pushed things too much, which was the aim. Only 2.5 months until the Phoenix marathon where the aim is to give it everything (I'm even going to do focused training just for that race...mind you that didn't work last year when I instead picked up an injury in December).

I was really happy that the illness and neck didn't affect things and that I didn't have to drop out or DNS. In the end I ran 2:38:36, so it was a bit ahead of the time I'd aimed for, but I blame 3rd place for that.

The course was decent enough and well marshaled, plus I've now seen the Los Gatos Creek Trail and can use it to train on, so a good weekend's work. It's always worthwhile to try the local races and it certainly is a novelty to not have to get up to early to travel miles away.