Sunday, 12 May 2013

Four Races Over Four Weekends - Cinderella Trail 50k

I intended to race the past three weekends (Diablo Challenge 50k, Big Sur Marathon and Miwok 100k) since I find that really helps to boost endurance for the summer. However, the reduced distance at Miwok of 60k due to fire danger, plus the off piste section that took me out of fully competing for the win meant I was looking for an extra long run to fit in this weekend. Step up the Cinderella Trail 50k by Coastal Trail Runs, conveniently close to home in the East Bay.

Usually I'd consider four consecutive weekends to be too much but this was planned as a long training run and I knew it included the French Trail which is one of my favorite trails in the Bay Area. It rolls through the forest on single track with the downhills providing momentum for the short, sharp climbs. Many mornings it's shrouded in mist to add to the mystical feeling and when you're on your own it's one of the calmest and most relaxing places I can think of.

Although I didn't bring my camera this time and it was a hot day with no mist, I did take photos last time I raced in Joaquin Miller Park so here are a few shots:

It was also great to unexpectedly see many friends I had no idea would be there, including Arizonans Jamil Coury (last saw him at Fuego y Agua) and Brett Sarnquist (last seen at Across The Years 24hr) who won the half marathon and marathon, respectively. Full results are here and I was very happy to get the win in a very small field as well as the bonus of the course record.

Below is one extra photo show for some trails I was very happy to discover just a couple of miles from home around Pleasant Hill. The Bay Area switches between city and trailrunner's paradise in such short distances with only the low hum of traffic to remind you of the mass of humans nearby.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Downhill Technique

Downhill trail running at Crater Lake

I love my downhills. Unlike many runners at mountain or trail races, this is the bit that makes it really fun for me and some of the most enjoyable solo moments in running are technical downhills where there's the chance to bounce around on rocks. If you see me at a race on a downhill you may see a lunatic grin on my face which I just can't help when it gets really fun. Uphills just aren't fun in the same way for me personally and are just a suffer-fest.

As a coach one of the most frequent questions I get is tips for running downhill better - more efficiently and in a way that causes less damage to the leg muscles. So this video from Portland-based Dana Katz includes helpful commentary and explanation of things to look for and aim for when downhilling. It was taken at the 2013 Miwok race last weekend and is of me running around 11 miles into the race.

Also, here's her full article showing both good and bad technique.

Sunday, 5 May 2013

Mini Miwok 100k

This year's Miwok 100k in Marin County, north of San Francisco, was full of surprises. Although it's no longer a Montrail Ultracup race with entry spots for Western States 100, it still had a few fast men and women to make the leading times very competitive.

Temperatures have been high in California for a few weeks and there are forest fires near LA currently. Unfortunately, late in the evening on the night before Miwok the authorities in charge of the permit for a section of the race revoked permission to use their trails due to there being a danger of fires starting in the heat. So race director, Tia Boddington, had to make last minute changes to the course that adjusted the start time from 5am to 8am and the distance from 100k to about 60k.

Just before the post-dawn, adjusted start

Although a lot of people were disappointed with the reduced distance, we were pretty much all glad to be able to race at all. At first I didn't think it'd affect the pace a whole lot since 60k in the heat isn't much easier than what the 100k that was expected. That wasn't the case since it started off more like a 10k trail race up the Dipsea Trail from Stinson Beach.

Early miles. Photo by San Francisco Running Company.

Dylan Bowman and Gary Gellin shot up the climb and were out of sight by the first aid station at 3 miles. Over the 7,700ft of ascent and 37.2 miles of the course they held on to a hard pace and battled it out. Around half way I was 4-5 mins back from Dylan who'd managed to gap Gary slightly, plus I felt like I'd paced things about right to that point and was starting to catch them marginally on the downhill and flat few miles near to Rodeo Beach.

At that point I was directed past a turning and kept running along the road to Rodeo Beach despite a lack of course markings. I'd have questioned it sooner if I'd not just been shown the way but did eventually turn around after asking multiple tourists if they'd seen any runners come through, which added to the time a little as I tried to find markings anywhere that might show I was going the right way.

Once I followed my tracks back I saw the turning and saw other runners going the right way, but I was now several places further back and lost around 11 minutes according to my Garmin. With somewhere around 17-18 miles to go I knew there was no way to catch the leaders unless they dropped or got lost so it became a training run from that point.

Looking back along the trail at Pirates Cove

The benefit of that was the prettiest sections (in my opinion) of the course were coming up ahead at Pirates Cove so I was able to take in the views a little more rather than busting a gut through that section. It wasn't easy by any means in the heat but it was more enjoyable to take it a little easier. Since the heat and miles were starting to get to the runners I gained a few spots to finish in 4th in 5:15 with Dylan taking the win in 4:49 and Gary not far behind, then my coaching client, Chris Wehan in 3rd in 5:04. Full results on Ultrasignup. Darcy Africa took the women's race in 6:05.

It was a fun day as always for races in Marin and Tia did a great job of making the race happen despite the last minute difficulties. Runs like this make me very glad to be back in the Bay Area, although Dylan and I were both a little concerned that the early season high temperatures and low snow levels in the High Sierra might lead to a big fire season out there. From a selfish viewpoint, one of the affects of that might be fires canceling Western States.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Social Media—Bane or Boon to Trail Running? Trail Runner Magazine's Symposium Topic

Do we need people to post pointless motivational photo quotes?

We all use social media too much. We know it, but we're addicted. We need to know what loose acquaintances and strangers are up to and talking to people in person is for old people. So Trail Runner Magazine decided to add to this with monthly topics for bloggers to discuss. Ironically this month's topic is whether social media is good or bad for trail running, so here are my additions to the debate.

To a lesser extent than road runners, trail runners still post frequently on Twitter, Facebook, blogs and other social media platforms I don't really know about. Similarly, many now share the details of every run on sites like Strava, GarminConnect etc. So is that a harmless outlet for vanity, a mutually motivating revolution or something else? I'll split it into the sites dedicated to exercise and those that are use for more conventional sharing for runners and non-runners alike.

Non-running focused sites

Some of us over-share and tell the world about every minute detail of our lives. Luckily for the rest of us, if we're not interested we don't have to read about it or follow those people. Or if we want to we can, hence I can't see a whole lot of harm in it from the perspective of the sport...unless we spend so much time on our laptops, tablets and phones that there's no time for actual running. It's as simple as that from my perspective.

It can even have some positive effects when people declare their intentions to the world, such as aiming to do their first [insert race distance here] race.It's more likely that these people will keep on track and achieve their goals due to not wanting to look like a quitter in front of running and non-running friends.

Running sites

I always found it odd when other runners would post exact details of their training and runs either on blogs or via sites that post this data to other sites like Facebook. Why should I care what training someone else does?In many ways this can be like a big swinging dick contest with runners trying to out-do each other with more miles, harder work-outs or other factors to show off their general amazingness. It can drive new runners to trails to assume that mega mileage is required to even finish long trail races, which just isn't the case and I strongly focus on quality, not quantity of miles for my online coaching clients.

Yet it's up to us whether or not to read or follow that information and it can give an insight into how to train for a particular race. Race reports can do exactly the same by imparting really helpful information to others if well-written and not too focused on the individual's experience instead of what the course and event is like.

The internet is full of useless or inaccurate information, but it also includes stuff  about virtually anything you want to research. It's up to us to selectively filter out the bits we don't want or need. For trail running there's now a host of everything we could want to know about races, routes and individual runners. Communication can be faster and more detailed than ever before, like when a race announces last minute course changes on its Facebook page.

I love reading up about races I'm planning on running, whether that's up-to-date info via Tweets or Facebook postings or even blog posts from past competitors. Need to know what the course profile is really like? Just look up any number of blogs to find out graphs, descriptions and often more than the actual event website can tell you.

This is the sort of thing a blog can help convey to others

Then there's the race day coverage that was never possible before. irunfar has been the pioneer in this field by using simple Tweets to let us feel like we're at the race itself. In fact, we find out more from those Tweets than if we were at the event in person (trust me, I've found that out when at an aid station and constantly checking my phone to see who's likely to come through next). This has been a significant improvement on race results that can take days or weeks to be posted, albeit it mainly covers the sharp end of the field.

Sites like Strava that let runners share every run they do have the effect of creating more data but there are gems sparkling in the seas of numbers. If you want to see how a top runner, someone at your level or anyone at all does their training, you now can. It allows us to find new routes either close to home or when traveling and we can even get the competitive juices flowing by doing mini races on particular sections of routes since Strava is designed to set up these rivalries. I like it and it can turn a monotonous route into a whole new challenge.


I like social media and the numbers, photos and everything else it allows us to share. Cutting out the noise and finding the useful parts is generally easy, plus it helps to foster competition and drive us all to improve, in whatever way we choose to measure our goals, whether that's speed or something else.

The main area that I think can be negative is when the blogs or forums focus on name calling, insulting or general trolling. But as with everything else on the internet we can choose to ignore it and just benefit from the best information - we should all be internet-savvy enough by now to know the difference.